At present, after three weeks of authorized hemming and hawing, the Northern District of California lastly made public a doubtlessly key piece of proof within the rollicking, roiling, rolling commerce secrets and techniques lawsuit between self-driving Alphabet spinoff Waymo and ridehailing firm Uber.
That proof is the Jacobs Letter, a 37-page rundown of really outrageous allegations about Uber’s enterprise practices, put to paper by the lawyer for former Uber worker Ric Jacobs. Initially despatched to Uber’s attorneys as a part of a dispute between the corporate and Jacobs, it’s now on the middle of Uber’s authorized combat with Waymo. Whoops.
And whereas the letter’s contents most positively haven’t been confirmed true, they embrace some super new assertions: that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick himself directed commerce theft; that the corporate employed spies to path opponents’ executives; that it illegally recorded a name with staff about sexual assault allegations; and that it used a meme-filled slideshow to show staff conceal implicating paperwork from nosy attorneys.
So we—such as you, presumably—have a number of questions.
Again up. What’s this complete Uber-Waymo factor anyway?
In February, Waymo sued Uber for commerce secret theft. It alleged longtime Google engineer Anthony Levandowski secretly downloaded hundreds of recordsdata, resigned, and used the ill-gotten mental property to start out his personal self-driving truck firm, Otto. Uber purchased Otto in August 2016 (for a reported $680 million) and put Levandowski in control of all its autonomous driving efforts. Waymo argues that Uber knew Levandowski had stolen its IP, then used that information to speed up its personal R&D.
After months of discovery, the case was presupposed to go to trial in early December, wrapping up in time for vacation sizzling candies and journeys to European snow chalets (for the attorneys, in all probability). As an alternative, in late November, the US Legal professional’s Workplace made the very uncommon transfer of sending William Alsup, the decide overseeing this case, a brand new piece of proof. (Authorized specialists speculate the federal government attorneys did this as a form of courtesy, as a result of Alsup had flagged the commerce secrets and techniques theft case for them again in Could—one other uncommon transfer. The US Legal professional’s Workplace confirmed this week it’s investigating the case.)
How true is that this letter?
Who is aware of? An Uber spokesperson writes: “Whereas we haven’t substantiated all of the claims on this letter—and, importantly, any associated to Waymo—our new management has made clear that going ahead we are going to compete truthfully and pretty, on the power of our concepts and know-how.”
Earlier this month, new Uber head lawyer Tony West advised the corporate safety workforce there was “no place” for competitor surveillance at Uber, and that anybody concerned in that form of shady habits ought to “cease it now.”
Throughout pretrial hearings a number of weeks in the past, Jacobs took the stand and walked again a number of the claims within the letter, together with the allegation that an Uber workforce stole commerce secrets and techniques from Waymo. “I don’t stand by that assertion,” he stated, explaining that his lawyer had written the letter, and that he had reviewed it in a rush whereas on trip.
Who’s Ric Jacobs?
Ric Jacobs is a former Uber international risk operations worker who left the corporate this spring, after telling high Uber execs he was uncomfortable along with his workforce’s ethically and legally doubtful practices. The doc portrays him as a whistleblower.
Uber says that’s not true, and its staff testified Jacobs was demoted for efficiency points, resigned after he was caught downloading paperwork, then used trumped-up fees to extract an enormous payout in “consulting charges” on his manner out the door—$four.5 million, plus one other $three million for his lawyer. Is Jacobs an extortionist? Would Uber pay that a lot to a foul actor? The letter solely tells his facet of the story.
What did Uber’s shadowy Strategic Companies Group and Market Analytics workforce truly do?
The letter says the Strategic Companies Group was made from spies who allegedly dealt with human intelligence assortment and stole information and information from opponents. It says Market Analytics members acquired commerce secrets and techniques, aggressive intelligence, code, and particulars on the operations of opponents’ apps—typically instantly on the behest of then-CEO Travis Kalanick.
The letter additionally recounts some very sketchy (and, keep in mind, alleged) fraud-like espionage habits. Jacobs’ lawyer writes that SSG infiltrated Fb teams and WhatsApp group messages for anti-Uber protestors, Uber drivers, and taxi operators. It alleges the Market Analytics workforce remotely accessed confidential company communications from a competitor, impersonated rider and drivers on the opponents’ platforms, and used the opponents’ information to “steal” drivers and riders for its personal service. This appears like—however isn’t essentially—a reference to Uber’s “Hell” mission, which used secret software program to trace rival Lyft’s drivers. (That program is reportedly being investigated by the FBI). The letter additionally alleges Uber stole a taxi driver database containing 35,000 data.
Did Uber surveil opponents?
Throughout a pretrial listening to this month, one Uber worker testified vendor had handed alongside a taped dialog between executives at Didi Chuxing and Seize (Uber opponents from China and Singapore, respectively). The letter describes an analogous (however perhaps not similar?) scenario, whereby, on the private route of Kalanick, “a number of surveillance groups infiltrated private-event areas at lodge and convention services” the place executives had been staying, to file personal conversations.
Does Uber actually have an lively mole inside a competitor’s ranks?
Quoth the letter: “So far, Jacobs is conscious Uber nonetheless advantages from at the least on well-place [sic] [human intelligence] supply with entry to [REDACTED] executives and their collective data of [REDACTED] on-going enterprise practices.” Yeesh.
Did Uber conceal stuff from authorized proceedings on function?
The Jacobs letter particulars a fancy system of protecting paperwork from eventual lawsuits, utilizing forwarding methods and strategic marks on draft paperwork to say attorney-client privilege. It additionally alleges Uber staff used non-attributable gadgets, cleaned after every use, and ephemeral messaging apps like Wickr and Telegram to speak about issues they’d slightly not have regulators and attorneys see. (Consultants notice there are completely good causes to make use of such gadgets and anonymizing methods.) The letter says one Uber official skilled the corporate’s autonomous driving unit to “impede, impede or affect the investigation of a number of ongoing lawsuits in opposition to Uber.”
Is anybody right here working professional bone-o?
The letter alleges an Uber worker “developed a coaching utilizing innocuous authorized examples and the ‘lawyer canine’ meme to provide a slide deck that taught the ThreatOps workforce make the most of attorney-client privilege to impede discovery.”
Did Uber truly wiretap an worker?
Among the many creepiest allegations: Uber didn’t inform staff it was recording them throughout a name in regards to the sexual harassment allegations. Recording a telephone name with out the consent of all events concerned is illegitimate in California.
What did Uber have nailed to its wall?
“Like a ‘scalp’ collected, the Market Analytics workforce proudly has a [REDACTED] nailed to the wall of their office to indicate their profitable theft of [REDACTED] commerce secrets and techniques,” the letter says. Twitter’s finest guess: a pink Lyft mustache.
Does the Jacobs Letter even matter?
Once more, it’s unclear whether or not any of those allegations are true, or why Jacobs had his lawyer write the letter within the first place. Nonetheless, Waymo will undoubtedly use the main points right here to argue Uber had established protocols to hide its alleged commerce secrets and techniques theft.
Regardless of the fact, the letter can have a right away impact: The court docket has discovered Uber ought to have positively turned over this 37-pager in the course of the discovery course of. And that’s an issue.
“To make use of a authorized time period, Uber is in deep doo-doo,” says Peter Toren, a federal prosecutor who focuses on commerce secret litigation. “Choose Alsup isn’t going to be happy with this in any respect.”
Alsup already has already been very impatient with Uber’s attorneys. Now, he might impose financial sanctions on Uber, charging them court docket prices and/or Waymo’s payments related to the trial delay, which might add as much as lots of of hundreds of . He might additionally permit the Waymo workforce to attract “opposed inferences” from Uber’s omission—to argue that, as a result of Uber couldn’t produce ephemeral messages and hid paperwork, it’s truthful for the jury to imagine that they had been crammed with nefarious dealings.
Lastly, the Jacobs letter might be used to complement different lawsuits within the galaxy of these filed in opposition to Uber—or to launch completely new ones. “To the extent that any individual now has a reason for motion they could not have had earlier than, it provides them proof,” says Toren. Waymo attorneys will not be the one ones studying the Jacobs letter. And so they gained’t be the one ones with questions.
Extra Uber, Waymo Issues