In new filing, Uber says it was unaware of Waymo data theft prior to lawsuit

In response to a series of questions posed by District Judge William Alsup, Uber claims that no one there was aware of any proprietary information taken from Waymo until that company had filed its lawsuit.

To recap: Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google parent Alphabet, sued Uber over theft of trade secrets, as the companies fight to bring autonomous vehicles to market. All of this came about after Anthony Levandowski, a key engineer leading Waymo’s self-driving car efforts, left the company and founded an autonomous trucking company called Otto, which was later acquired by Uber.

Waymo claims that on his way out the door, Levandowski took with him several gigs’ worth of confidential documents related to Google’s proprietary LiDAR design, which they believe were later used in the creation of Uber’s own custom autonomous driving technology.

There have been several twists and turns along the way, as both companies ready discovery documents ahead of a planned October court date. But some of the most contentious fighting leading up to the trial has been around whether or not Levandowski downloaded the files before leaving Waymo, who he might have shared them with, and what Uber knew about the alleged theft and when.

On that front, Waymo has argued that Uber was aware Levandowski was in possession of material he shouldn’t have had, citing Uber’s own filings to support the claim. That includes a March 11, 2016 meeting, when Levandowski told Uber executives, including then-CEO Travis Kalanick, about five discs of Waymo material he had discovered.

But in today’s filing, Uber strongly objected to that argument, saying it didn’t know Levandowski had stolen any documents from Google or Waymo. Uber argues that its employment agreement with Levandowski would have prohibited him from using that information even if he had it.

Uber acknowledges that Levandowski made known that he had “discovered” five discs’ worth of proprietary Waymo data, but claims it was unaware of how he came to possess it. According to the filing:

“Levandowski did not tell [Otto co-founder Lior] Ron that he had downloaded any Google proprietary information for any improper purpose or that he had deliberately taken any Google proprietary information with him when he left Google. Instead, Levandowski reported that these five discs were still in his home from the time when he used to work at Google.”

Further, when that information came to light, Levandowski was told by Uber that the company wanted nothing to do with it. As the document states, “Kalanick emphatically told Levandowski that Uber did not want any such information, that Levandowski should not bring any such information to Uber, and to talk to his lawyer.”

Later in the day, the document alleges, Levandowski told others that he had destroyed the discs in question. As a result, Uber claims that no proprietary information was used in the development of its autonomous vehicle program.

While today’s filing is the strongest and most complete statement in which Uber proclaims its innocence in the matter, its fight is far from over. By all indications it appears both companies will still be going to court in October, with Waymo trying to prove that Levandowski stole information that made its way into Uber’s tech, and Uber trying to show that isn’t the case.

Update: Waymo disputes Uber’s account, natch. Official statement from a Waymo spokesperson below:

“The evidence clearly shows that stolen information has already made its way into Uber’s technology. We’re not convinced by Uber’s attempts to distance itself from a former star engineer it paid $250m to come to Uber while knowing he possessed Waymo’s proprietary information. Rather than do the right thing, Uber took part in a coverup, only firing Mr Levandowski after their actions were exposed in litigation.”

For a fuller account of Waymo’s argument that Uber is engaging in a cover-up, as well as Uber’s response to Waymo’s response, check out Recode.