The trial between Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car subsidiary, and Uber over the ride-sharing company’s alleged theft of intellectual property took a turn toward ludicrous during a hearing in San Francisco on Tuesday.
Richard Jacobs, an ex-employee and current consultant for Uber, wrote in a letter and testified under oath that he had been a part of a corporate espionage unit within the company that was responsible for stealing trade secrets, hiding evidence, and influencing lawsuits.
He also claimed that the team used a secretive messaging system on an anonymous server that would delete texts almost immediately in order “to ensure we didn’t create a paper trail that came back to haunt the company in any potential civil or criminal litigation.” Legal trainings within the company also allegedly served to help employees evade investigators.
According to Bloomberg, Jacobs told the court, “I did not believe it was patently illegal. I had questions about the ethics of it. I suppose because of my personal ethics it felt overly aggressive and invasive.” Jacobs also noted that the intent of the unit was primarily to surveil overseas rivals.
Prosecutors had informed U.S. District Judge William Alsup that they were in contact with him during their own criminal investigations into Uber’s alleged thefts. Alsup reportedly indicated that he trusted Jacobs’ testimony because prosecutors had also found it tenable. In light of the new evidence and allegations that Uber lawyers had been withholding Jacobs’ letter, the judge indefinitely delayed the trial, which was set to begin on Dec. 4.
Waymo sued Uber in February, claiming that a former head engineer at Waymo, Anthony Levandowski, had kept intellectual property from his projects after leaving the company. He then allegedly provided Uber with the trade secrets once it had bought his automated truck startup. Waymo reportedly proposed that Uber pay at least $1 billion in damages. Uber denies that it used any of Waymo’s intellectual property.