A bombshell due diligence report that was released on Monday claims Uber was aware that its star engineer had stolen trade secrets from Google when they hired him to head up its self-driving car division.
The 34-page report was commissioned by Uber when it was in the process of acquiring Anthony Levandowski’s company Otto in 2016.
Levandowski had worked for Google for nine years but quit in January that year. In February, he set up Otto with a team of former Google colleagues and in August that year, Uber acquired it.
Waymo, the self-driving subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is now suing Uber, claiming it used information that Levandowski stole to further its own self-driving division.
The due diligence report was filed in US District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday.
It was compiled by legal firm Stroz Friedberg which was brought in by Uber to help with its $680million acquisition of Otto last August.
The report was dated August 5, 2016. Uber announced its acquisition of Otto on August 18.
Uber executives including Travis Kalanick knew Anthony Levandowski stole secrets from Google before it hired him for its self-driving car division in 2016. Kalanick and Levandowski are pictured above in August 2016 after announcing their new venture together
They were specifically tasked with finding out whether Levandowski and four other former Otto employees had stolen Google’s information in a probe labeled ‘Project Unicorn’.
The lawyers examined more than 50 computers and devices and 1.5million files as part of its review.
In their report, the lawyers found that Levandowski was in the possession of stolen Google information, that he admitted it, and that he promised he’d destroyed all of it at shredding plants.
However the lawyers said they found it ‘difficult to believe’ he had no knowledge of all the stolen files until after he left the company and also said they could not verify his claims that he destroyed it all.
Among the materials were photographs of its self-driving car prototype, marketing strategies and confidential presentations based around it.
In December 2015, a month before resigning from Google, Levandowski moved 24,000 files into trash on one of his devices.
The 34-page report was part of Project Unicorn, Uber’s investigation into whether or not Levandowski or his Otto colleagues stole and used trade secrets from Google. It was completed on August 5, two weeks before Levandowski’s hiring was announced
During an interview with the lawyers in March 2016, Levandowski admitted possessing confidential Google information including source code, design files, laser files, engineering documents and discs which contained the code to operate Google’s self-driving cars once inserted into a prototype vehicle.
Insisting that he’d downloaded the materials ‘in the normal course of business’, he said he told former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick when he suddenly discovered them in his home after leaving Google.
Kalanick, who was pushed out earlier this year, allegedly told him he wanted nothing to do with the files and said: ‘Do what you need to do.’
Levandowski said he then took them to Shred Works, a shredding facility in Oakland where he said he paid cash and did not get a receipt but promises to have ‘watched them be shredded in front of him’.
When investigators visited the facility, none could verify that he had ever been there.
Other materials including Google Street View camera prototypes that he said he found in his garage were picked up by a destruction company ‘whose name he could not recall’ and taken away.
A Dropbox which contained other files was also wiped and was empty when he handed it over to Uber executives, the report claims.
He said the downloaded files were taken by accident and that he was ‘surprised’ to find so many when among his possession.
‘He did not recall when he last accessed these folders, and he seemed surprised at the amount of Google-related information that was on his laptop,’ the report reads.
According to the report, Levandowski had photographs of Google’s prototypes and designs on his phone and computer after he left the company. Levandowski is pictured launching Uber’s self-driving prototype in December 2016
This is the self-driving van prototype which Waymo released images of in December 2016, the same month Levandowski promoted Uber’s version
Investigators also found deleted iMessages on Levandowski’s phone to unknown recipients which read: ‘I’ll clean that s*** out’ and ‘we’re ready for Junk King’. Junk King is a removal and hauling service.
Until now, Uber has denied the accusation made by Waymo – a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet – that it has used the information to advance its own self-driving car division.
It has never denied the allegation that Levandowski may have stolen the information or at one time possessed it.
The report however indicates that Uber was warned of the suspicion that Levandowski stole Google files long before Waymo launched its lawsuit in February 2017.
‘It is difficult to believe that Levandowski was not, prior to his interview, fully aware of the extent of the data that he had retained,’ it said.
Levandowski was fired from Uber in May after refusing to cooperate with its internal investigation into the issue.
A screen grab from Levandowski’s LinkedIn profile details his experience and the rapid pace at which he moved from Google after nine years to launching Otto and then having it acquired by Uber
Kalanick was pushed out of Uber earlier this year as the company’s scandals mounted. The report claims he knew about Levandowski’s stolen files and was aware of his apparent plans to destroy them
In court, he has pleaded the fifth amendment when questioned. As part of its acquisition of Otto, Uber agreed to protect him from liability in civil court.
Long before the deal was finalized, Levandowski is said to have exchanged hundreds of text messages with Uber executives including ousted CEO Travis Kalanick and had meetings with others.
He even asked one executive how much they would pay for Google’s entire self-driving technology team, it claimed.
‘At one point, Levandowski said that he asked Brian McClendon, who left Google to join Uber, how much Uber would be willing to pay for the Chauffeur team, claiming he wanted to have a market value for the team.’
The other engineers all had deleted iMessages that were also examined by lawyers.
They included the messages ‘update on the Google front’.
Later text messages, once he had left Google, between him and Kalanick describe how Levandowski poached former Google employees to join Otto.
‘Its [sic] going amazing, just onboarded another 5 peeps today, 4 from former team … Looks like we’re signing in a couple hours,’ Levandowski said in the February 22 message.
Kalanick replied: ‘Just reading text now … Pumped’.
On Monday, Uber said it was happy the due diligence report had come to light.
A spokesman said 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.’
In its original complaint against Uber, Waymo accused it of infringing on four of its technology patents.
It has since dropped three of those claims but is asking for $6.2billion in damages for the one which it still insists was copied.