SAN FRANCISCO - Two tech giants racing for a lead in autonomous driving clashed Monday in court as former Google car unit Waymo's lawyer argued that Uber's boss deliberately chose "to cheat" to get a leg up on competitors.
The accusations flew in the opening day of a trial in which Google parent Alphabet's Waymo division is seeking at least $1 billion over the theft of trade secrets from its self-driving car program.
In opening remarks before the jury in San Francisco federal court, Waymo lawyer Charles Verhoeven maintained that Uber's founder and former chief executive Travis Kalanick made the decision to use stolen trade secrets to enable the global ridesharing giant to move into autonomous driving.
"He made a decision and the decision was to cheat," Verhoeven said.
"He made the decision that winning was more important than the law."
Uber has denied the allegations, which stem from a lawsuit claiming that former Google car executive Anthony Levandowski took thousands of files before leaving the unit for a startup called Otto later acquired by Uber.
Verhoeven said Kalanick -- who was ousted as CEO last year amid a move to reform Uber's workplace culture -- realized his company was lagging in efforts to develop autonomous technology and decided to take a dishonest route.
Kalanick told his colleagues that "this all about winning," the lawyer argued, and that Uber knew it could not catch Waymo because the Google car unit was "ahead of the pack."
Uber attorney Bill Carmody sought to downplay the accusations and said the evidence would prove "there's no conspiracy."
Carmody said evidence would show Google and Waymo were failing to invest enough to keep the most talented staff, enabling Uber to hire them.
The Uber lawyer pointed to one email shown in court in which the former head of Google's car unit complained that "we have stopped playing to win" and noting that Uber "is acquiring the people I suggested we hire 1.5 years ago."
In this context, Carmody, said that for Uber, "spending hundreds of millions for (Otto) to get trade secrets, it doesn't make sense."
If Waymo prevails, the trial could deal a severe blow to Uber's efforts to widely deploy self-driving vehicles as part of its ridesharing operations -- a field which also includes Waymo and other rivals.
The trial comes with Uber seeking to turn the page following a series of scandals over alleged misconduct and a cut-throat workplace culture, as new chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi strives to get the company on course and prepare for a stock market debut in 2019.
The trial could last up to three weeks, with witnesses likely to include Kalanick, Levandowski and key Google executives.
To prevail, Waymo must show not only that documents were misappropriated but also used for "unjust enrichment."
© Agence France-Presse