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

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