Waymo’s bid to recover $1.86 billion in a trade secrets case against Uber Technologies Inc. is in jeopardy as a federal judge cut the company’s damages expert from the case, one month before a trial over driverless technology.
The decision leaves the Alphabet Inc. unit without an outside source to justify why it deserves that startling amount in an industry that hasn’t been commercialized or generated revenue for either company.
“The exclusion of Waymo’s expert is devastating for Waymo’s lofty damages claims,” Janelle Waack, an intellectual property lawyer, said in an email, adding that the ruling may be critical enough for Waymo to appeal. “Without the expert, Waymo will have trouble establishing damages, especially the more speculative projections,” she wrote.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco late Thursday follows a series of decisions unfavorable to Waymo earlier in the day. Alsup’s order was filed under seal, to give both sides an opportunity to review his reasoning privately.
Waymo claims engineer Anthony Levandowski stole 14,000 computer files while he worked there and transferred the information to a rival Uber unit, which he took over last year. Levandowski, who isn’t a defendant in the case, asserted his constitutional right against self-incrimination and isn’t expected to testify at the trial next month.
“Waymo’s case continues to shrink,” Uber spokesman Matt Kallman said. “After dropping their patent claims, this week Waymo lost one of the trade secrets they claimed was most important, had their damages expert excluded, and saw an entire defendant removed from the case — and all this before the trial has even started.”
Johnny Luu, a spokesman for Waymo, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
The company argued its damages expert, Michael Wagner, calculated the time and cost savings Uber gained from the trade secret theft using financial information from the ride-hailing company.
Wagner relied in part on a slide presentation former Uber executive Nina Qi made as the company considered the acquisition of Otto LLC. The target company, which Uber bought in August for $680 million in stock, was formed by Levandowski days after he quit Waymo.
Wagner “is simply looking at Uber’s own estimate of how valuable the technology was to Uber at the time of acquisition,” Waymo said in a court filing.
Uber argued Wagner damages were built on speculative and unreliable models of “future profits.”
“Forecasting profits in the nascent autonomous vehicle industry that has not yet been commercialized is inherently speculative,” Uber said in a filing.
The case is Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies Inc., 17-cv-00939, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).