In 2006, entrepreneur Kevin Halpern was secretly working on an idea for a mobile taxi-hailing service called Celluride. While he did so, he shared office space in San Francisco with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
Halpern is now suing Kalanick, co-founder Garret Camp, and several early investors, accusing them of stealing his idea to form the basis of Uber, Buzzfeed reports. Uber denies the claims made in the lawsuit.
Halpern claims that only a few people were aware of his plans for Celluride, and one of them was Kalanick. At the time, Halpern says that both he and Kalanick were renting office space from mutual friend and Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams.
“Kalanick was brilliant at gaining my trust,” Halpern said in a video statement. “I thought I could form a business relationship with Kalanick as an advisor or team member and shared Celluride’s presentation, architecture, brochure, and cell phone demo.”
“Most importantly we discussed the massive business opportunity of the private transportation market, which he knew nothing about at the time,” he added.
Halpern claims that Kalanick “created an exact replica of Celluride and called it Uber,” and is suing Kalanick, Camp, and two early investors Bill Trenchard and Bill Gurley for misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion — illegally using someone else’s idea — and breach of contract.
Halpern is asking for “compensatory damages,” claiming in the lawsuit that his injuries are in excess of $US1 billion.
Uber denies that such a relationship existed.
“These claims are completely baseless. We will vigorously defend against them,” Uber spokeswoman Kristin Carvell said in a statement.
Business Insider reached out to Uber, but the company has not responded.
Halpern also claims First Round Capital’s Bill Trenchard played a big part in stealing his idea. Halpern apparently reached out to Trenchard for advice on how to launch Celluride. Shortly afterwards, Trenchard joined First Round, which was one of Uber’s early investors, and Halpern claims that Trenchard took Halpern’s plans to First Round and Uber’s founders.
Court documents do include several emails between the two men.
The lawsuit doesn’t contain much evidence that Halpern and Kalanick actually discussed Celluride. But Halpern’s lawyer Chris Dolan told Buzzfeed that there were witnesses to the conversations, and that more documents and evidence will be revealed at a later date. Dolan announced the lawsuit at a taped press conference.
When asked why he had waited so long to file the suit, Halpern said that he wasn’t aware how large a role Kalanick played in Uber, and how big the company itself was going to be, until the company took off.
Halpern’s company Celluride does not appear to be in operation, Fortune reports. He previously lost a similar case against another startup, OfferPal Media — now called Tapjoy. He sued the company’s founder Anu Shukla, claiming that Shukla had cut him out of the company shortly before it was founded. Halpern says he had a role in helping to create OfferPal.