Clash of titans reveals Silicon Valley culture
A federal trial featuring two heavyweight technology companies is intriguing on its own. Toss in an unpredictable judge, A-list witnesses and some warlike rhetoric, and the legal battle between Alphabet’s Waymo and Uber Technologies turns into a spectacle that offers a revealing look into Silicon Valley culture and personalities.
On Thursday, as the fourth day began in a trial expected to last at least two weeks, neither party had notched any big wins, but the proceedings produced moments of levity and theatrics amid the serious allegations and rebuttals. Waymo, the selfdriving offshoot of Google, claims Uber conspired to steal trade secrets to jump-start its own driverless car program. Uber denies the allegations.
US district judge William Alsup set a tone for the case on Monday by admonishing lawyers for rearranging his courtroom. The lawyers took over the first few rows of pews and created tripping hazards with a tangle of wires for their laptops. Dollies full of legal documents were wheeled in; one sagged under the weight of 16 boxes. The first star witness, former Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick, took the stand on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Mr Kalanick reminded observers of his Silicon Valley roots with the vernacular he used in testimony and evidence, referring to an Uber project as “super duper”, describing Alphabet CEO Larry Page as “unpumped” about the competition, and talking about “jam seshes” with his colleagues.
Waymo attorneys sought to portray Mr Kalanick as the protagonist who schemed with a former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski to steal trade secrets from Waymo and then cover their tracks to avoid legal repercussions.
Mr Kalanick has denied any theft in depositions and testimony, and Mr Levandowski has previously indicated he will invoke his Fifth Amendment right against any possible selfincrimination.
Waymo attorneys showed emails, texts and notes with seemingly aggressive phrases attributed to Mr Kalanick, such as “losing is not an option”, “it is war time”, “burn the village” and “pound of flesh”. One curious phrase went viral on Twitter: “laser is the sauce”, which Waymo attorneys said showed how highly Mr Kalanick valued Google’s technology involving lasers.
The attorneys squabbled with Uber’s lawyers over whether they could show jurors a clip from the movie Wall Street, featuring Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech that was texted by Mr Levandowski to Mr Kalanick. The texts included a winking emoji, the meaning of which the lawyers also debated. Judge Alsup ultimately allowed the clip, drawing a retort from Mr Kalanick on Wednesday that “it’s a movie, it’s fake”.
Judge Alsup, who made headlines earlier this year for blocking the Trump administration’s effort to end the Dreamers migration program, is known for his blunt style and attime brusque declarations, but he lightened the courtroom mood at times, even during technical testimony.
Travis Kalanick leaves court yesterday