At the moment, after three weeks of authorized hemming and hawing, the Northern District of California lastly made public a probably 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 actually outrageous allegations about Uber’s enterprise practices, put to paper by the lawyer for former Uber worker Ric Jacobs. Initially despatched to Uber’s legal professionals as a part of a dispute between the corporate and Jacobs, it’s now on the heart of Uber’s authorized struggle with Waymo. Whoops.
And whereas the letter’s contents most undoubtedly haven’t been confirmed true, they embody some great new assertions: that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick himself directed commerce theft; that the corporate employed spies to path rivals’ executives; that it illegally recorded a name with workers about sexual assault allegations; and that it used a meme-filled slideshow to show workers easy methods to cover implicating paperwork from nosy legal professionals.
So we—such as you, presumably—have a number of questions.
Again up. What’s this entire Uber-Waymo factor anyway?
In February, Waymo sued Uber for commerce secret theft. It alleged longtime Google engineer Anthony Levandowski secretly downloaded 1000’s of information, resigned, and used the ill-gotten mental property to begin his personal self-driving truck firm, Otto. Uber purchased Otto in August 2016 (for a reported $680 million) and put Levandowski answerable for 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 speculated to go to trial in early December, wrapping up in time for vacation scorching goodies and journeys to European snow chalets (for the legal professionals, most likely). As an alternative, in late November, the US Lawyer’s Workplace made the very uncommon transfer of sending William Alsup, the decide overseeing this case, a brand new piece of proof. (Authorized consultants speculate the federal government legal professionals did this as a form of courtesy, as a result of Alsup had flagged the trade secrets theft case for them again in Could—one other uncommon transfer. The US Lawyer’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’ll compete truthfully and pretty, on the energy of our concepts and expertise.”
Earlier this month, new Uber head lawyer Tony West informed the corporate safety staff there was “no place” for competitor surveillance at Uber, and that anybody concerned in that type of shady conduct 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 staff stole commerce secrets and techniques from Waymo. “I don’t stand by that assertion,” he mentioned, 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 world menace operations worker who left the corporate this spring, after telling prime Uber execs he was uncomfortable along with his staff’s ethically and legally doubtful practices. The doc portrays him as a whistleblower.
Uber says that’s not true, and its workers 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 method 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 nasty actor? The letter solely tells his facet of the story.
What did Uber’s shadowy Strategic Providers Group and Market Analytics staff really do?
The letter says the Strategic Providers Group was made from spies who allegedly dealt with human intelligence assortment and stole information and information from rivals. It says Market Analytics members acquired commerce secrets and techniques, aggressive intelligence, code, and particulars on the operations of rivals’ 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 conduct. 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 staff remotely accessed confidential company communications from a competitor, impersonated rider and drivers on the rivals’ platforms, and used the rivals’ information to “steal” drivers and riders for its personal service. This feels like—however just isn’t essentially—a reference to Uber’s “Hell” venture, 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 information.
Did Uber surveil rivals?
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 rivals from China and Singapore, respectively). The letter describes an identical (however perhaps not an identical?) state of affairs, whereby, on the private route of Kalanick, “a number of surveillance groups infiltrated private-event areas at lodge and convention services” the place executives have been staying, to report personal conversations.
Does Uber actually have an lively mole inside a competitor’s ranks?
Quoth the letter: “Up to now, Jacobs is conscious Uber nonetheless advantages from at the very least on well-place [sic] [human intelligence] supply with entry to [REDACTED] executives and their collective information of [REDACTED] on-going enterprise practices.” Yeesh.
Did Uber cover stuff from authorized proceedings on function?
The Jacobs letter particulars a posh system of defending paperwork from eventual lawsuits, utilizing forwarding strategies and strategic marks on draft paperwork to claim attorney-client privilege. It additionally alleges Uber workers used non-attributable gadgets, cleaned after every use, and ephemeral messaging apps like Wickr and Telegram to speak about issues they’d quite not have regulators and legal professionals see. (Specialists word there are perfectly good reasons to make use of such gadgets and anonymizing strategies.) 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 dog’ meme to supply a slide deck that taught the ThreatOps staff easy methods to make the most of attorney-client privilege to impede discovery.”
Did Uber really wiretap an worker?
Among the many creepiest allegations: Uber didn’t inform workers 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 against the law in California.
What did Uber have nailed to its wall?
“Like a ‘scalp’ collected, the Market Analytics staff 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 greatest 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 small print right here to argue Uber had established protocols to hide its alleged commerce secrets and techniques theft.
Regardless of the reality, the letter could have a right away impact: The courtroom has discovered Uber ought to have undoubtedly turned over this 37-pager through 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 former federal prosecutor who focuses on commerce secret litigation.1 “Choose Alsup just isn’t going to be happy with this in any respect.”
Alsup already has already been very impatient with Uber’s lawyers. Now, he may impose financial sanctions on Uber, charging them courtroom prices and/or Waymo’s payments related to the trial delay, which may add as much as a whole lot of 1000’s of . He may additionally permit the Waymo staff to attract “antagonistic inferences” from Uber’s omission—to argue that, as a result of Uber couldn’t produce ephemeral messages and hid paperwork, it’s honest for the jury to imagine that they have been crammed with nefarious dealings.
Lastly, the Jacobs letter may very well be used to complement different lawsuits within the galaxy of these filed in opposition to Uber—or to launch solely new ones. “To the extent that any person now has a reason behind motion they could not have had earlier than, it provides them proof,” says Toren. Waymo legal professionals are usually not the one ones studying the Jacobs letter. They usually gained’t be the one ones with questions.
1 Story up to date at 20:15 ET on Saturday, December 16 to make clear Peter Toren’s title.