The legal drama has gripped Silicon Valley since Waymo filed its lawsuit nearly a year ago. Waymo is considered a leader in autonomous vehicles, and was pouring resources into research and development long before other companies.
But in the last few years, competitors have been hiring former Google engineers for their own self-driving-car projects. Among them, Uber is considered formidable because it has billions to spend and can test the technology using its vast ride-sharing network.
In an indication of how closely this case is being followed, a line to get into the courtroom at the federal courthouse in San Francisco started forming an hour before the trial was scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m.
The witness list includes technology billionaires like Travis Kalanick, Uber’s former chief executive, and Larry Page, chief executive of Alphabet. The judge, William Alsup, even said he had been informed that someone was impersonating him on Twitter.
Waymo argues that Uber has misappropriated eight trade secrets pertaining mainly to lidar — an abbreviation for “light detecting and ranging” — sensors that help the cars navigate on their own. The company is asking for an injunction preventing Uber from developing an autonomous vehicle using its lidar technology. In addition, it wants financial compensation for Uber’s use of the technology.
Waymo’s lawyers repeatedly drew a comparison to Ms. Ruiz, one of the most brazen cheaters in sports history. Charles K. Verhoeven, Waymo’s lawyer, said Uber, like the disgraced marathoner, wanted to win no matter what and realized that it couldn’t win playing by the rules.
“We’re bringing this case because Uber is cheating,” said Mr. Verhoeven, who is a partner at the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. “They took our technology to win at all costs.”
He highlighted internal communications from Uber executives talking about how winning was an imperative and saying that the company needed to find “cheat codes.” The internal messages also noted that the lidar technology being developed by Mr. Levandowski was essential for Uber’s success in self-driving cars and that there was no substitute.
In their opening statements, Uber’s lawyers countered that the company had developed its technology on its own and that any similarities were due to the information’s being generally known or easy to figure out for Uber’s engineers. And there is no evidence that any of Google’s technology made its way to Uber, they said.
So why, then, has Waymo dragged Uber into court? To kill a competitive threat, said Bill Carmody, Uber’s lawyer.
“That was quite a story, but I’m going to tell you right upfront: It didn’t happen. Period. End of story,” said Mr. Carmody, who is a partner at the law firm Susman Godfrey. “Like most conspiracy theories, it doesn’t make sense when you hear the whole story.”
In Mr. Carmody’s version of events, when Uber hired a team of self-driving engineers in 2015 from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Google’s management became concerned that it would become a footnote in the history of self-driving cars.
To emphasize that the files downloaded by Mr. Levandowski before leaving Google were never found at Uber, Mr. Carmody reverted to the Ms. Ruiz comparison: Waymo was actually a race official who looked for evidence of cheating but couldn’t find any.
In a day of sports metaphors, Uber countered with a Bay Area favorite. Mr. Carmody said the hiring of Mr. Levandowski, a pioneer in the field of self-driving vehicles, wasn’t an act of desperation. Instead, it was the act of a strong team trying to land the best available talent — the way the Golden State Warriors signed the basketball star Kevin Durant in 2016 to an already championship-caliber lineup.
At the same time, Uber also distanced itself from Mr. Levandowski, who is expected to exercise his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination when he is called to testify. Mr. Carmody said Uber regretted hiring him and noted that it had fired him in May — almost two months after Mr. Levandowski had refused to cooperate with Uber’s case.
John Krafcik, Waymo’s chief executive and the first witness called by the company, said he and Mr. Levandowski had had disagreements about the direction of Google’s self-driving-car project. He said Mr. Levandowski had wanted faster progress even if it came at the expense of safety features.
Before his departure from Google, Mr. Levandowski sent an email in January 2016 to Mr. Page, Alphabet’s chief executive, saying the self-driving-car project was “broken.” He argued for permission to create a rogue team to compete against their co-workers, because the company was moving too slowly.
“He went from someone I called a friend to someone I considered an enemy,” Mr. Krafcik said.