Alphabet Inc.’s trade secret action against Uber Technologies Inc. over driverless car technology is already turning chippy.

The two companies are squabbling over whether Uber’s in-house counsel can have access to confidential court material filed under seal by Alphabet’s automobile subsidiary, Waymo, the nominal plaintiff in the case.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California tentatively ruled Wednesday that Waymo is out of bounds and promised to vet an Uber house attorney for clearance at a Friday hearing.

“This is an unreasonable condition, if true, imposed by plaintiff,” Alsup wrote in Waymo v. Uber Technologies. For one thing, “if the allegations in the complaint are true, then defendants already know the sensitive information.”


Waymo argues that it’s not opposed “in principle” to sharing the documents, so long as Uber can identify in-house attorneys who are not now or in the future likely to be involved in “competitive decision-making” or who might pose a risk of inadvertent disclosure.

Waymo, represented by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, sued Uber on Feb. 23, alleging that a former Waymo employee stole laser technology it spent years developing and started a competing company that Uber bought last summer for $680 million. Waymo also accuses Uber of infringing two patents on the use of a single lens to transmit laser beams and receive light reflected from surrounding objects. Waymo formally moved Friday for a preliminary injunction.

Uber and Morrison & Foerster complained to Alsup on Monday that Waymo was refusing to provide unredacted versions of sealed filings unless MoFo promised not to share them with Uber’s in-house counsel.

“Plaintiff claims to have filed a 69-page document with over 120 trade secrets. We have not seen that document,” Arturo J. Gonzalez wrote in a letter to Alsup. That doesn’t square with the Northern District’s model rules on protective orders, Gonzalez argued.

Quinn Emanuel partner Charles Verhoeven responded Wednesday that in a trade secret case between direct competitors, the rules provide for in-house attorney access “on a case-by-case and lawyer-by-lawyer basis” and that Uber had “yet to make the required showing.”

Alsup’s tentative order called for Waymo to share the material with at least one Uber attorney, “once vetted and approved by the court.” If Alsup does issue an injunction, “in-house counsel will need to know what is verboten in order to enforce it faithfully,” the judge wrote. “At all events, defendants need this information shared with in-house counsel to prepare their defense.”

Contact the reporter at sgraham@alm.com. On Twitter: @scottkgraham

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