The piping hot legal battle betwixt Google and Uber over the fate and future of each company’s self-driving car technology got even hotter earlier this week. The main man at the center of the kerfuffle, Anthony Levandowski, exercised his good ol’ Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. So it’s probably safe to say how this lawsuit’s going to work out.
Google & Waymo vs. Uber & Otto
No, that ^^^ is not the matchup for an aliens/angry Germans bout for the WWF Tag Team Championship. Instead, it’s the lineup of companies involved in this dustup. Here’s the rundown: Levandowski used to work for Google, in their self-driving car division, which was eventually spun off into its own entity under Alphabet (Google’s “parent company”), called Waymo. Shortly after leaving the Waymo team, Levandowski started up his own self-driving car start up (actually, self-driving trucks), called Otto. Not long after that, Uber bought Otto (to the tune of $680M), and Levandowski’s services along with it.
Now, Google/Waymo is alleging that, not long before he set out on his own, Levandowski industrial espionaged himself a whole buttload of insider info from Google’s servers—some 14,000 files, weighing in at roughly 9.7 gigabytes of data. Allegedly, Levandowski even went so far as to install special software that would allow him to steal such info.
If that’s true, Levandowski is one of the most incompetent technology thieves in the history of technology thieves. You’re working for probably the biggest tech company in the world, and you didn’t think that they’d be able to track your moves on that? Come on, man!
“Pleading the Fifth Doesn’t Look Good”
Uber has been ordered to turn over all the files and data involved in the alleged info heist. When it became clear that he would be called to testify in the case, Levandowski plead the Fifth. One of Levandowski’s presumably many, many lawyers, Miles Ehrlich, told the New York Times that his client made the call to protect himself against “compelled disclosure that would identify the existence, location, and possession of any responsive documents.”
One of Uber’s own lawyers, Arturo Gonzalez, meanwhile, said in the same Times piece that the company has told Levandowski that he needs to release the documents or risk termination. “We obviously have a conflict,” Gonzalez said in a massive understatement. Ehrlich stated that Levandowski may rethink his invocation of the Fifth Amendment as the case evolves.
Either way, the PR damage may have been done. Later in that same article, Michael Carrier, a Rutgers University law professor, laid it out pretty plainly. “The more we get into this, it might look like a public relations disaster for Uber,” Carrier said. “The mere fact that [Levandowski is] pleading the Fifth doesn’t look good.”
No two Waymos about it, Uber made a booboo v. Google.