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Google Co-Founder Mentor Then Rival, Ex-Uber CEO Testifies

08 February 2018
Google Co-Founder Mentor Then Rival, Ex-Uber CEO Testifies

Travis Kalanick is due to take the stand on Wednesday morning on the third day of the explosive Uber-Waymo trial.

It's been a tough morning so far for Uber's former CEO Travis Kalanick, who faced a second day of grilling from Waymo's attorneys about his efforts to compete against Google's self-driving auto program.

During a subsequent cross-examination, Mr. Kalanick told the startup's representatives that Mr. Levandowski was never asked for any trade secrets from his time at Google's self-driving subsidiary which was spun off into Waymo in late 2016. Mr. Levandowski isn't officially named as the defendant in the case and has already pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked to testify.

Kalanick was first introduced to self-driving cars when picked up in one by Alphabet CEO Larry Page.

Kalanick's testimony showed the personal nature of the lawsuit, which is as much about big personalities at wealthy technology companies as it is about the technology itself. "He was sort of a little angsty and said, 'Why are you doing my thing?'" In July 2016, Uber-which had long relied in part on Google's mapping technology to power its maps and navigation-was said to be investing half a billion dollars in creating its own worldwide mapping system, lessening its reliance on Google. The ride-sharing company Uber is accused of stealing trade secrets from Google's self-driving auto company, Waymo. Waymo said engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential files in December 2015 containing designs for autonomous vehicles before he went on to lead Uber's self-driving auto unit in 2016.

Travis Kalanick says his number 1 priority was getting the best engineers when explaining the decision to poach an engineer from Google. Drummond left Uber's board as conflicts of interest between Google and Uber became more apparent.

Although famous for his hot-headed temperament, Kalanick kept his cool on Wednesday and offered short, subdued responses to Waymo's attorneys, whose questions focused on Kalanick's competitive nature. During the final months of Kalanick's eight-year reign as CEO, Uber acknowledged rampant sexual harassment within its ranks, a yearlong cover-up of a major computer break-in and a $100,000 ransom paid to the hackers, and the use of duplicitous software to thwart government regulators. The Otto acquisition and Uber's self-driving vehicle development happened under Kalanick's direction.

Aggressive rhetoric aside, Kalanick said Uber hired Levandowski for his skills, not his secrets.

"Greed is good": Waymo wants to show the jury a text from Levandowski to Kalanick and play its link to Michael Douglas' "greed is good" speech from the movie "Wall Street." "Second place is first loser". Dressed in a navy suit and tie, Kalanick presented himself as humble and obliging in the face of questioning, taking regular sips from a water bottle. Uber's defence paints a different picture: one of Google seeking revenge after its plucky competitor poached its top engineer and started a driverless vehicle programme. At the time, Kalanick testified, it seemed like there was potential for both companies to work together.

But in a deposition previous year, Benchmark venture capitalist Bill Gurley, an early Uber investor and former board member, said Kalanick told the board the diligence report was "clean".

Judge William Alsup said he would wait to rule on the clip's admissibility until he hears Kalanick's testimony. Gurley also said Kalanick "crossed a line of violating fraud and fiduciary duty" with the Otto acquisition.

Levandowski's hiring turned into a legal battle over driverless vehicle tech like, LIDAR. Another internal document, written by a senior Uber executive, noted that Kalanick wanted to use "cheat codes" against competitors and stated: "The golden time is over, it's war time".

Kalanick was shown in court an email from another executive, which said the "X factor" of acquiring Levandowski's company was the "IP in their heads". "Larry was fairly upset with us", Kalanick said.