Documents Bolster Alphabet's Uber Case -- WSJ

By Jack Nicas Features Dow Jones Newswires

Uber Technologies Inc. aimed to buy a startup from an engineer while he was still working on self-driving technology at Google parent Alphabet Inc., court documents revealed Wednesday.

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The disclosure appears to bolster Alphabet's argument of collusion between Uber and the engineer, Anthony Levandowski.

Alphabet hopes the documents it presented will help persuade a federal judge to temporarily block parts of Uber's driverless-car program. Alphabet made the argument in court as part of the biggest fight yet in the companies' high-profile legal battle.

Alphabet filed suit in February, accusing Uber of using information Mr. Levandowski allegedly stole while a key manager at Waymo -- Alphabet's self-driving car project -- to develop a laser sensor for Uber's own self-driving navigation. Alphabet has alleged Mr. Levandowski secretly downloaded 14,000 files in December 2015 before departing last year to create Ottomotto LLC.

On Jan. 13, 2016, two weeks before Mr. Levandowski left Alphabet, an Uber employee sent to colleagues proposed milestones for Mr. Levandowski's yet-to-be-launched startup, which Uber was looking to acquire, according to an email Alphabet presented in court Wednesday.

"I think that it is good enough to pass along to Anthony tonight," the Uber employee said in the email. "Please tell Anthony that it is full of numbers, all of which can and should be adjusted and negotiated by both of us over the next week."

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The Uber employee added, "This list of deliverables is a high bar for sure. But then again so is what he is asking for in $$."

Other documents Alphabet presented in court Wednesday show Uber eventually awarded Mr. Levandowski 5.3 million shares for Ottomotto, or more than $250 million, Alphabet attorneys said.

While an Uber spokesman said after court that the stock agreement was signed when the $680 million acquisition closed in August 2016, the document shows the shares were backdated to start vesting Jan. 28, 2016 -- the day after Mr. Levandowski left Alphabet. The spokesman added that shares would only vest when certain milestones were met, which they haven't yet.

Much of Wednesday's hearing focused on whether Uber was involved with Mr. Levandowski's alleged theft. Uber attorneys didn't dispute Alphabet's allegation that Mr. Levandowski stole files before he left, but they denied Uber knew of, possessed or used those files.

Uber attorney Arturo Gonzalez said that after 40 lawyers spent 6,000 hours searching through files on Uber's servers -- and after Alphabet questioned 11 Uber employees -- the company found "no evidence that anybody at Uber knew anything about these 14,000 files before this lawsuit was filed."

Uber previously has argued the case should be sent to arbitration to join lawsuits Alphabet already has filed against Mr. Levandowski, who isn't a defendant in the federal case.

Mr. Levandowski repeatedly has invoked his Fifth Amendment rights in the case and declined to comment or produce documents. Mr. Levandowski's attorneys didn't respond to a request for comment.

Judge William Alsup on Wednesday said Alphabet has presented one of the "strongest records I've ever seen in a long time of someone doing something that bad," referencing Mr. Levandowski's alleged theft. But Judge Alsup said it isn't clear whether Uber colluded with Mr. Levandowski to steal the documents, or whether it took steps to prevent Mr. Levandowski from using any confidential information he may have gathered at Alphabet.

"What does the system of justice do in a case like this, where there is an innocent explanation and guilty explanation and neither proven yet?" the judge asked.

Alphabet attorneys argued that given Mr. Levandowski's refusal to cooperate in the case and Uber's move to withhold an additional 3,500 documents, Judge Alsup should infer Uber has used the documents and thus block parts of its driverless-car program until the case concludes.

Uber attorneys argued there is no evidence to justify an injunction.

The judge is expected to rule later this month.

Write to Jack Nicas at jack.nicas@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 04, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)