SAN FRANCISCO — As if the legal feud between driverless car rivals Waymo and Uber didn’t already involve enough lawyers, Kirkland & Ellis is now wading into the fray.
Robert Ellis, a litigation partner in Kirkland’s Chicago office, entered an appearance Tuesday afternoon on behalf of Stroz Friedberg LLC. The company, which bills itself as a “specialized risk management firm,” produced a due diligence report that has taken center stage in Waymo’s trade secrets theft case against Uber.
The report was prepared ahead of Uber’s acquisition of Otto—the company started by former Waymo star engineer Anthony Levandowski. Waymo’s attorneys at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan have indicated they see the report as potentially critical in proving that Uber knew prior to the deal that Levandowski stole thousands of files from Waymo. They have also said they believe that Stroz may have some of those files in its possession.
In a letter brief filed Tuesday, Ellis rebutted suggestions by Waymo that it was obstructing the ability of the company to retrieve the stolen files. He argued that the documents sought are privileged, and will only be produced with permission from Uber, Otto, Levandowski and Otto co-founder Lior Ron. But he added: “Certainly, Stroz will comply with any order of this court directing production of some or all of the requested materials.”
Ellis did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Tuesday. Miranda Tinsley, a spokeswoman for Stroz Friedberg, said the company is not commenting on the litigation.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Corley of the Northern District of California on June 5 ruled that the due diligence report was not protected by attorney-client privilege or the work product doctrine, and ordered Stroz Friedberg to hand it over to Waymo, Google’s driverless car division.
According to her order, Stroz was retained by Otto and Uber jointly before the acquisition in March 2016. It was hired as a forensic expert to investigate certain Otto employees that previously worked at Waymo, including Levandowski and Ron, conducting interviews and examining their digital devices and cloud storage.
Levandowski ultimately went on to lead Uber’s development of LiDAR, a laser technology that allows driverless cars to see their environment. Waymo sued Uber at the end of February, accusing it of using technology misappropriated from Waymo. Levandowski was subsequently fired by Uber at the end of May under pressure from U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who is presiding over the case.
Uber is represented by Morrison & Foerster and Boies Schiller Flexner; Otto is represented by Goodwin Procter; and Levandowski is represented by Ramsey & Ehrlich.