The 9 most ridiculous moments from Uber's $245 million legal battle with Waymo

Elijah Nouvelage/Getty ImagesFormer Uber CEO Travis Kalanick leaves the Philip Burton Federal Building after testifying on day two of the trial between Waymo and Uber Technologies on February 6, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
  • Uber and Waymo have settled their epic legal battle over self-driving car tech.
  • It was like a Hollywood drama, often veering from the deadly serious to the ridiculous.
  • Here are the craziest moments, from lawyers squabbling over Michael Douglas’ performance in “Wall Street” to debate over a “pound of flesh.”

Uber and Waymo have reached a settlement in their Hollywood-worthy legal battle over self-driving car technology.

Uber, accused of stealing trade secrets from Google sister company Alphabet, agreed to pay $US245 million worth of equity on Friday – abruptly halting the proceedings that had been scheduled to go on for at least another week.

The stakes were high, with Waymo initially seeking as much as $US1.8 billion in damages. But over the four days of the trial before the settlement, matters veered wildly from the serious to the surreal.

One moment, presiding judge William Alsup was outlining trade secret law to the jurors; the next, lawyers were bickering over whether they could show the legendary “greed is good” scene from the Michael Dogulas film “Wall Street” in court, or debating the philosophical nature of “cheat codes” with ousted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

The case revolved around Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer, later with Waymo, who left to form a self-driving car startup called Ottomotto that was subsequently acquired by Uber. Levandowski was accused of purloining Waymo’s trade secrets, but the settlement meant he never had a chance to take the stand, where he had been expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

In fact, the alleged trade secrets weren’t even discussed all that much before the proceedings were halted. The majority of the case was held open to the public, with the focus more on allegations of conspiracy between Kalanick and Levandowski than the technical details of the LiDAR self-driving car sensors at issue in the case.

Here are nine of the weirdest and most unusual moments in the dramatic legal battle – along with some of the key points in the transcripts.

1. The judge slammed Uber and Waymo’s lawyers for taking up too much room.

Court filing

Judge Alsup, who presided over the case, is famous for his quips and take-no-prisoners approach, and this case was no different.

Within minutes of the trial beginning, he was chastising both sides’ legal teams for taking up too much space – leaving little room for the public.

“This is unconscionable that the law firms would take up this much space,” he chided.

2. Travis Kalanick wanted a “pound of flesh.”


On Tuesday, Travis Kalanick first took the stand – and his use of unusual idioms and lingo came under heavy scrutiny.

One of the most cryptic was a note saying that he wanted a “pound of flesh” from the Otto team. And while he claimed not to remember saying it, he did admit he uses the Shakespearean phrase from time to time.

[Waymo lawyer] VERHOEVEN: Did you tell the group that what you wanted was a pound of flesh?

KALANICK: I mean, I don’t know specifically. It’s a term I use from time to time, but I don’t know.

VERHOEVEN: Do you deny that you said it?


3. “Laser is the sauce.”

NSSC Photographic CollectionA laser is beamed through bottle of dye used for camouflage clothing, 1973.

Later in the day, a phrase came up that has spawned multiple memes: “Laser is the sauce.”

Written on a whiteboard by Kalanick, the phrase perfectly encapsulated both the futuristic nature of the issues at stake, as well as the absurdity of much of the proceedings.

It came up during the questioning of Kalanick by Waymo’s lawyers. To those lawyers, it was yet another piece of evidence of the importance of lasers and lidar technology to Uber – that they are the “secret sauce” that underpins self-driving cars, and critical to their success.

VERHOEVEN: And then under Item 3 on the board, read what it says.

KALANICK: “Laser is the sauce.”

VERHOEVEN: So during this jam session, you discussed the fact that laser is the sauce; correct?

KALANICK: Yes. I think it was probably a description of our sesh, yes.

VERHOEVEN: And what that meant is that lasers are the sauce to make autonomous vehicles work; right?

KALANICK: It’s close. I would say it’s an important part of making autonomous work. It doesn’t work without it.

VERHOEVEN: If you want to make an autonomous vehicle, you must have a viable way to get lasers at scale; isn’t that true?

KALANICK: That is correct.

VERHOEVEN: And Uber didn’t have that sauce prior to the Ottomotto acquisition, did it?

KALANICK: That’s correct.

4. Uber and Waymo’s lawyer bickered over whether they could show a clip from the 1987 film “Wall Street.”

Wall Street

The high-water mark for weirdness at the trial was likely an extended debate between the two sides’ lawyers about the 1987 film “Wall Street.”

In the run up to the Ottomoto acquisition, Levandowski had texted Kalanick a clip from the movie: A legendary scene in which Michael Douglas’ character gives his famous “greed is good” speech.

Waymo’s lawyers wanted to show it to the jury during Kalanick’s testimony, as evidence of the duo’s mindset. Uber countered that Waymo was just trying to use the clip to emotionally sway the jury – and that the Oscar that Douglas won for his performance was evidence it was powerful and shouldn’t be allowed to be shown.

The legal teams spent much of Wednesday morning squabbling over it, with Judge Alsup ultimately approving it to be shown later in the day.

JUDGE ALSUP: Well, but it was a movie that the two key actors in the case laughed about.

[Uber lawyer] DUNN: Well, Your Honour, that is not in evidence. And I don’t think that this forensic spreadsheet shows — maybe he read the text. It doesn’t show that he clicked on the link. It doesn’t show that he was very inspired by Michael Douglas’s Academy Award-winning performance in Wall Street.

DUNN: I agree. At least that’s real. This — Wall Street is just a work of fiction.

There’s no evidence that Mr. Kalanick clicked on the link, that he saw the speech, that he was so inspired as to give the speech. All there is is a text from Mr. Levandowski which, by the way, has an emoticon. It does not actually say “wink, wink” as Mr. Verhoeven has now twice represented to the Court.

And so the purpose of this is the same purpose that courts have previously rejected, which is when you want to play songs and movies designed to evoke emotional responses — which this one apparently did, having won Mr. Douglas the Best Actor award — that is the purpose here.

And Mr. Verhoeven knows it. It’s very apparent. And he’s fighting very hard to be able to do that. And we object.

VERHOEVEN: I can respond, Your Honour. As Your Honour noted yesterday, the theory of this case is that Mr. Levandowski and Mr. Kalanick were in it together, and they were planning to cheat. And this goes right to it. This is part of the case, and this is probative to show that, in fact, that was the case.

I don’t know what — why it — what it is, is a link that was sent with a text. The text is now undisputedly read. And I should be able to show it, just like I’d be able to show someone a document they admit they got, that had an attachment, and ask him, “Did you read the attachment?” And I get to show the attachment.

5. Travis Kalanick discussed iPhone gaming and the philosophical nature of “cheat codes.”

Chris C. Anderson

Another Kalanick-ism that got a lot of attention was he concept of “cheat codes.” The executive had said in meetings he wanted “cheat codes,” which was interpreted by Waymo’s legal team as evidence was was prepared to “cheat” to get ahead – even if meant breaking the law.

The former executive shot back that it instead referred to “elegant” engineering solutions, and the end of his testimony devolved into a surreal pseudo-philosophical debate over his gaming habits and the purpose of cheat codes.

VERHOEVEN: Mr. Kalanick, I think I read in the press that you’ve been playing a lot of video games lately. Is that true?

KALANICK: When I’m between gigs, I play iPhone games sometimes.

VERHOEVEN: You like playing video games?

KALANICK: Like — iPhone games is my thing

VERHOEVEN: In the context of video games, you know what a cheat code is, don’t you, sir?

KALANICK: Yes, I do. Yes.

VERHOEVEN: It’s a code you can use so you don’t have to actually do the game, but you can cheat and get to the next level. Isn’t that true, sir?

KALANICK: Well, I think — yes, but those codes in those games are put there on purpose by the publisher of those games. And they want the game players to have those codes.

VERHOEVEN: Well, if the game players can’t do the work they’re supposed to do, then they can go get the cheat code; isn’t that true, sir?

KALANICK: No, it’s just part of the fun of the game. That’s just a game.

VERHOEVEN: Well, in any event, you agree that a cheat code allows you to skip ahead and not have to do the game and do the work to get from one level to the other; yes?


VERHOEVEN: Thank you. I have no further questions.

Side note: Kalanick claims that iPhone games are his “thing,” but that hasn’t always been the case. He used to be big into the Nintendo Wii, once even claiming to hold the second-highest score in the world at Wii Tennis.

6. A pair of earrings allegedly contained Waymo’s “crown jewels.”

This case is all about trade secrets. And for something to be a trade secret it has to be, well, secret.

The company that holds the purported trade secret has to take reasonable efforts to keep it secret, which is why Waymo indicated throughout the trial how carefully its employees handled the information in question.

But what happens if you turn a piece of circuitry into earrings and give them away as a gift – is is still a secret?

This is one of the issues that was at hand in the case. A Waymo circuit board had been made into jewellery, which Uber’s lawyers on Thursday morning argued meant proper care hadn’t been taken to protect the alleged trade secrets.

Uber lawyers said that Waymo treated its trade secrets as the “crown jewels,” but pointed out that giving one away as jewellery might not be considered a reasonable amount of security.

“Well, sounds like it’s a jewel,” Judge Alsup quipped.

7. A famous investor got complimented on his height.

Steve Jennings/Getty Images

On Thursday morning, Benchmark venture capitalist Bill Gurley, one of the investors in Uber, took the stand to give his brief testimony about Uber’s due diligence on the Ottomoto deal.

He cuts a seriously imposing figure – he’s a cool six foot nine inches tall – and this wasn’t lost of Judge Alsup.

“You get the record for being the tallest person,” he joked as Gurley took the stand. “So you need to crank your microphone up some so it will catch your voice.”

8. A Waymo engineer turned a LiDAR sensor into artwork and took it to Burning Man.

Later on Thursday, Uber returned to the theme of how Waymo treats its trade secrets when cross-examining Waymo engineer Pierre-Yves Droz.

This time it was over something a little more unusual than a pair of earrings. It was a Lidar array that had been turned into a work of art and taken to Burning Man, the massive art festival that’s a favourite of Silicon Valley power players.

The inference was obvious: If Waymo engineers were taking bits of its tech to 10-day raves in the desert, then the company wasn’t taking proper care to protect its alleged trade secrets.

[Uber lawyer] GRINSTEIN: Now, during your work at 510 Systems and later at Google, from time to time employees would take home old versions of LiDAR devices; isn’t that correct?

DROZ: I think from time to time employees would, to be quite fair. I know of instances where this happened.

GRINSTEIN: I mean, for example, you took home a 510 device and used it for an art project, art display at Burning Man; right?

DROZ: Yes, I did.

GRINSTEIN: And you also —

DROZ: I don’t think it was a 510 device.

GRINSTEIN: It was a 510 device; right?

DROZ: It was something — it was a LiDAR off-the-shelf, like a seek LiDAR.

GRINSTEIN: You also took home from Google old versions, junked versions, whatever you want to call them, of Teddy Bear and Papa Bear; isn’t that right? I did that once. Anthony actually had told me to do that. He had told me I could take mementoes. And I brought it back a few month later.

9. Uber and Waymo reached surprise a settlement: “This case is ancient history.”

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesDara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber.

And then on Friday, suddenly, it was all over.

Waymo was approaching the end of its case, with only a day or two expected left. But after the public took their seats, Waymo’s legal team had an announcement to make – the two sides had settled.

Uber has agreed to pay Waymo $US245 million worth of equity, Business Insider understands, and CEO Dara Khosrowshahi expressed “regret” for what had taken place.

JUDGE ALSUP: All right. Be seated, please. And we don’t need to call the case. This is the Waymo v Uber case. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to begin things slightly differently this morning. I’ll explain as we go along. Mr. Verhoeven, I understand you have a motion to make.

[Waymo lawyer] PERLSON: I do, Your Honour. The parties have reached a settlement t in this case, Your Honour.Waymo, pursuant to the stipulation of the parties to be filed this morning, hereby moves to dismiss the case with prejudice.

JUDGE ALSUP: All right. Stipulated?

[Uber lawyer] GONZA╠üLEZ: That’s confirmed, Your Honour.

JUDGE ALSUP: All right. That motion is granted. This case is ancient history. It’s over.

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