An Uber Technologies engineer at the center of a Silicon Valley self-driving technology theft lawsuit received more than $250 million worth of Uber stock which began vesting the day after he left Alphabet’s Waymo, lawyers for Waymo said in court on Wednesday.
Uber is fighting for the right to continue work on its self-driving car program, the latest phase in a courtroom battle over trade secrets that threatens to topple a central pillar of Uber’s growth strategy.
The ride-services company is contesting Waymo’s accusation that former Waymo engineer and current Uber executive Anthony Levandowski took technical secrets from Waymo and used them to help Uber’s self-driving car development.
If it were proven that Levandowski and Uber conspired in taking the information, that could have dire consequences for Uber, say legal and ride-hailing industry experts. Uber’s $68 billion valuation is propped up in part by investors’ belief it will be a dominant player in the emerging business of self-driving cars.
At issue on Wednesday is Waymo’s demand that U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup in San Francisco issue an injunction barring Uber from using any of the technology that Waymo said was stolen. If Alsup issues a broadly worded order against Uber, it could all but shut down Uber’s self-driving car program while court proceedings continue.
Waymo on Wednesday sought to buttress its case by arguing that Levandowski and Uber had conspired against Waymo by saying the engineer was planning to work for Uber while he still was employed at Waymo.
Levandowski formed a self-driving trucking company, Otto, after leaving Waymo, and Uber later bought Otto.
Waymo attorneys showed a slide of an Uber document showing Levandowski also had received 5.3 million restricted stock units of Uber. That was worth more than $250 million in January 2016, the lawyer said, without describing in detail the basis of the valuation.
An Uber spokesman said the stock award was actually made in connection with Uber’s acquisition of Otto in August 2016, and the vesting start date was backdated to late January so that Levandowski’s time at Otto counted for the Uber vesting schedule.
Alsup himself did not appear shocked. “So what? That’s a lot of money I guess, but why wouldn’t he get a lot of money?” he asked.
Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven said it was circumstantial evidence of bad intent by Levandowski and Uber. “He’s getting awarded stock by Uber when he’s supposedly starting his own company,” he said.
Waymo has said Levandowski, who until last week was head of Uber’s self-driving car program, stole more than 14,000 confidential documents before leaving his job at Waymo.
Uber has said Waymo’s claims are false, and in a court filing called the preliminary injunction motion “a misfire.” Uber has not denied Levandowski took files from Waymo, but said it never possessed any of the confidential information that Waymo accused Levandowski of stealing.
On Wednesday, Uber attorney Arturo Gonzalez said that attorneys had spent more than 6,000 hours on document review and had not found any sign of the Waymo documents in Uber’s system.
Alsup may intimate which way he is leaning on the injunction request. At a hearing last month, Alsup warned Uber that it may face an injunction, saying of the evidence amassed by Waymo: “I’ve never seen a record this strong in 42 years.”