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Judge Says Waymo Can Tell Jurors That Uber Withheld Evidence

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In a strongly worded ruling on Thursday, a federal judge presiding over an intellectual property fight between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving car unit spun out of Google, said jurors in a coming trial may be told that Uber has been withholding key evidence.

The trial, in United States District Court in San Francisco, is not expected to start until October, but Judge William Alsup did little to hide his frustration with the resistance or inability of Uber and its lawyers to hand over evidence in a pretrial discovery process, according to a hearing transcript provided by the court.

“You misled the judge time and time again,” Judge Alsup told Arturo González, Uber’s outside counsel from the law firm Morrison & Foerster.

The trial is one of the most important courtroom fights for the tech industry in years, and its outcome could affect the future of driverless car technology.

Waymo claims that Anthony Levandowski, a former Google employee and self-driving car expert, collaborated with Uber to steal trade secrets related to Waymo’s autonomous car technology.

The two companies have been arguing over evidence since February, when Waymo’s suit was filed. Uber contends that Waymo has cast too wide a net and has been unsuccessful in its attempts to uncover damning evidence. Waymo has countered that Uber has not been forthcoming with crucial information.

Uber has repeatedly missed deadlines to hand over material, irking Judge Alsup and Waymo’s lawyers.

“Since the start of this case, Uber and its attorneys and agents have refused to produce key evidence, continued to harbor Waymo’s stolen files, and obstructed discovery at every turn,” Johnny Luu, a Waymo spokesman, said in a statement. “We welcome Alsup’s decision to allow Waymo to propose instructions to the jury regarding Uber’s misconduct and we look forward to trial.”

In court on Wednesday before the ruling, Mr. González blamed a mistake made by his law firm, Morrison & Foerster, for his failing to present a series of files downloaded by Mr. Levandowski during the discovery process. He said the firm intended to hand over the material.

Uber contends that it has turned over files in the case. “While Waymo has obtained over 238,000 pages of production documents from Uber and conducted a dozen inspections over 61 hours of our facilities, source code, documents, and engineers’ computers, there’s still no evidence that any files have come to Uber, let alone that they’re being used,” said Chelsea Kohler, a spokeswoman for Uber.

Judge Alsup’s rebuke is another hit to Uber’s reputation. The privately held company, valued at $70 billion, is in the middle of a boardroom battle between its largest shareholders and is still searching for a new chief executive after the ouster of Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder.

In early 2016, Mr. Levandowski left Google to form his own start-up, Otto, which focused on building a self-driving long-haul trucking business. Months later, Uber agreed to purchase Otto, and its team of autonomous vehicle engineers, for nearly $700 million.

Uber fired Mr. Levandowski in May after he missed a company deadline to hand over information relating to the court fight.

Waymo claims the creation of Otto was a setup created by Mr. Levandowski and Mr. Kalanick to pave the way for the eventual sale to Uber. Uber maintains Waymo’s claims are meritless.

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