Kalanick returns to court in Waymo-Uber autonomous car secrets trial

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Former Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick is expected to testify at trial for a second day on Wednesday, responding to rival Waymo’s allegations that Uber expressly hired a star Waymo engineer to gain self-driving car technology trade secrets.

The normally combative Kalanick, who was pushed out of the top post at ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] in June, was subdued on the witness stand in San Francisco federal court on Tuesday in his first public comments on allegations in a lawsuit that Waymo filed a year ago.

In the lawsuit Waymo, Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) self-driving car unit, said engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential documents in December 2015 before Kalanick hired him at Uber in 2016. Levandowski is not a defendant in the case. Waymo has estimated damages in the case at about $1.9 billion, which Uber rejects.

The jury will have to decide whether the documents were indeed trade secrets and not common knowledge, and whether Uber improperly acquired them, used them and benefited from them.

Their decision will help determine who emerges in the forefront of the autonomous car business, one of Silicon Valley’s most competitive technology races.

On his first day on the stand, Kalanick testified that he was a “big fan” of Levandowski, and began negotiations with the engineer in 2015 to try to hire him, frustrated by the slow pace of Uber’s self-driving program.

“Look, I wanted to hire Anthony and he wanted to start a company. So I wanted to come up with a situation where he could feel like he started a company and I could feel like I hired him,” Kalanick testified.

Kalanick was personally involved in Uber’s 2016 acquisition of Otto, the self-driving truck startup founded by Levandowski, which merged the companies’ businesses and put Levandowski in charge of Uber’s autonomous-driving unit.

Under questioning by Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven, Kalanick acknowledged that Google was considered the industry leader for autonomous vehicles. In his opening statements on Monday, Verhoeven argued it was this perception that led to Kalanick’s desire to “win this race at all costs,” hiring Levandowski knowing that he had trade secrets.

Uber’s lawyers will also have a turn to question Kalanick on the stand. Uber attorney Bill Carmody told the jury on Monday that despite the downloads by Levandowski, Google’s proprietary information never made it to Uber and into its self-driving technology.

Reporting by Dan Levine, Alexandria Sage and Heather Somerville; editing by Grant McCool