On Nov. 28, Judge William Alsup put the start of the trade secrets trial on hold after he was notified by the U.S. attorney’s office of a letter that purportedly detailed a covert effort by Uber to covertly gather intelligence on its competitors.
The day before jury section was set to begin, a federal judge in San Francisco indefinitely delayed the start of the trade secrets trial between Waymo and Uber, citing the discovery of a letter detailing Uber’s alleged efforts to spy on and steal from competitors.
On Nov. 28, Judge William Alsup put the start of the trial on hold after he was notified by the United States attorney’s office of a letter that purportedly detailed a covert effort by Uber to not only gather intelligence on its competitors, but also to cover up its actions.
The letter was reportedly written to Uber’s deputy general counsel, Angela Padilla, by a lawyer for fired Uber security team employee Richard Jacobs in either May or June. It stated that Uber’s marketplace analytics team was engaged in efforts to search for private material that may have been accidentally shared online by competitors via the code-sharing website GitHub.
The letter also states that in 2016, Uber hired someone to specifically help recruit competitors’ employees, with the goal of stealing other companies’ secrets.
Portions of the 37-page letter were read aloud during a Nov. 28 court hearing by a Waymo attorney. At the hearing, Alsup accused Uber’s attorneys of hiding evidence.
“I can no longer trust the words of the lawyers for Uber in this case,” the judge said.
Waymo, a Northern California-based self-driving vehicle development company and subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet Inc., sued Uber in February, accusing it of stealing trade secrets and patent infringement. Waymo claims that three ex-Google employees stole trade secrets and joined Uber.
Among those employees was Anthony Levandowski, who worked as an engineer at Waymo until Jan. 27, 2016. He established self-driving truck startup Otto in February 2016, and Uber purchased Otto for $680 million six months later.
Levandowski was retained by Uber to lead its self-driving car efforts. Waymo contends that Uber’s purchase of Otto was part of a conspiracy to steal trade secrets, something that Uber has denied.
Judge Alsup said Tuesday that he was delaying the trial in order to give Waymo’s legal team more time to gather evidence.
“If even half of what is in that letter is true, it would be an injustice for Waymo to go to trial,” Alsup said. He also chastised Uber’s legal team, saying that it “should have come clean” about the letter long ago.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said it discovered the letter as part of a criminal probe that it has been conducting into Uber since May.