A diligence report ordered by Uber has indicated that the ride-sharing company knew that Anthony Levandowski – the self-driving car expert who used to work for Waymo – had thousands of documents and trade secrets, including protected intellectual property developed at Google, with him before he was hired.
Levandowski left Google to set up his own self-driving car start-up Otto, which was then acquired by Uber for $680m (£513m), according to a report by Wired. Now, it has been revealed that Uber might have already known that Levandowski stole documents from Google before he left Waymo, but went ahead with his recruitment.
Waymo, Google's self-driving unit under Alphabet, has been locked in a legal battle with Uber over patent and technology infringement. The case began earlier this year when Waymo asked courts to stop Uber from using allegedly stolen self-driving technology.
The Wired report mentions two important points on which the case stands – first, did intellectual property get stolen, and second, was Uber – at the time headed by Travis Kalanick – actually conspiring to steal the files and later use this tech to advance their own self-driving car programme?
It has been reported that Uber knew about the stolen files before Levandowski was acquired. The engineer supposedly had thousands of files related to Google's self-driving car project in his possession for at least two months after he left the company.
He reportedly had access to source code, design files, laser details, presentations, software, and photos of Google tech, apart from other information like Google's own Lidar system that can help self-driving cars 'see' their environment. According to reports, he stored them on his personal laptop, in a Dropbox, and on a set of five disks.
There are reports that he deleted many of the files by the time Uber officially started its internal investigation.
Now, the due diligence report from Uber reportedly reveals that there were conversations between Levandowski and Uber a full six months before he left Waymo in January 2016.
The diligence findings have also revealed that, at one point of time, the engineer from Google asked Uber executive Brian McClendon (who is not with Uber anymore) about how much he would pay for his entire team from Waymo. Levandowski claims that he enquired to get to know the market value of his staff.
Earlier this week, an Uber spokesperson said that the company was happy that the diligence report was made public because it "helps explain why – even after 60 hours of inspection of our facilities, source code, documents, and computer – no Google material has been found at Uber".
The Wired report notes that little is known right now about the circumstances in which Levandowski quit Google, set up Otto, and then moved to Uber as he has pleaded the Fifth Amendment throughout the trial.
According to US law, Fifth Amendment rights can be used to prevent one from self-incrimination, which led to the judge in the case having to refer it to federal prosecutors to find if this lawsuit against Uber holds water.
Uber fired Levandowski in May this year, for reportedly not cooperating in the company's legal efforts.