TBA Law Blog

Posted by: William Haltom on Aug 1, 2017

Journal Issue Date: Aug 2017

Journal Name: August 2017 - Vol. 53, No. 8

It’s shaping up to be a huge legal battle. And there is no one in the driver’s seat.

It’s a heavyweight lawsuit between two Silicon Valley behemoths, Google and Uber. The case also involves the alphabet, although it’s not as simple as A-B-C.

At issue is laser sensor technology used in driverless cars. Uber wants to convert its world-wide taxi fleet to driverless cars, enabling it to layoff of tens of thousands of drivers and replace them with robocars.

Google does not have a taxi fleet, but it does have a driverless car program called Waymo. It is driven, so to speak, by its parent corporation, Alphabet Inc.

Alphabet Inc. has filed a lawsuit in federal court in California claiming that Uber drove off with some 14,000 of its files (or 9.7 gigabytes!) related to laser sensor technology used in driverless cars, and serving as the engine for Waymo. The driver of the alleged Uber get-away vehicle was Anthony Levandowski, the former head of Waymo, and until recently, an Uber executive in charge of its driverless car initiative. Google-Alphabet claims that Levandowski downloaded the thousands of files from Waymo’s servers before he quit Google in January 2016, and delivered them to his new employer, Uber.

Levandowski and Uber vehemently deny the charges.

Unfortunately for Levandowski and Uber, the lawsuit is not judgeless. U.S. District Judge William Alsup of San Francisco is sitting on the Bench behind the judicial steering wheel, and he recently ordered that the case be referred to federal prosecutors for an investigation of possible trade-secret theft. The Judge wrote in his order, “The Court takes no position on whether prosecution is or is not warranted.” Nevertheless, Judge Alsup definitely revved up the engines on the case.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the judge took the action after Levandowski tried to put the brakes on discovery, repeatedly fighting efforts to turn over documents in the case, invoking the Fifth Amendment. Uber then threw Levandowski under the bus, firing him for not cooperating with a court order on discovery. Talk about a gigabyte!

Well, not to change gears, but I use Google every day and I’m a frequent rider in Uber’s currently driver-filled cars. I can summon both Google and Uber on apps on my smarter-than-I-am phone, and I do so on a regular basis. I have no idea who, if anyone, is at fault in the Google-Alphabet-Uber-Levandowski lawsuit.

All I know is that I am looking forward to soon being auto-chauffeured in either an Uber or Waymo or, better yet, riding in the passenger seat of my own orange and white driverless utility vehicle.

You see, I recently got my Medicare card which means the federal government has certified me as an old geezer. While I still have my driver’s license and my grown children have not yet taken my cars keys away from me, I fully realize it’s just a matter of time before I’m declared unfit to drive. At that point someone, or more accurately something, is going to have to haul me to Starbucks and to my office every morning and back home at night.

To borrow a line from that noted lawyer Ralph Nader, I will soon be unsafe at any speed.

My need for a driverless car or cab is best illustrated by a scary story I recently heard about a senior citizen driver.

An elderly woman was pacing alone around her house early one evening, fervently praying for the safe return of her husband, and waiting to hear the sound of his car pulling into the driveway.

When to her relief, her husband arrived, she ran out the front door of their home and threw her arms around her husband’s neck as he exited his car.

“Thank God, you’re home, John!” the wife sobbed. “I’ve been watching the news on T.V. There’s a crazy man out on the expressway driving the wrong way against the traffic!”

“Oh believe me, honey. I know all about it!” replied the husband. “I’ve been out there on the expressway, and there ain’t just one crazy guy driving the wrong way against the traffic! There are thousands of them!”

Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a shareholder with the firm of Lewis Thomason. He is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a past president of the Memphis Bar Association. Read his blog at www.billhaltom.com.