Uber Waymo dispute: Letter alleges secretive effort by Uber to spy on competitors

A letter that laid bare the secretive effort at Uber to gather intelligence on competitors and cover its tracks has put the ride-hailing company on the defensive in the legal fight between Google affiliate Waymo and Uber.

The discovery of the letter yesterday made a federal judge delay a trade secrets trial, a day before jury selection was set to begin between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google's parent company, Alphabet.

Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco was alerted to the existence of the letter by the US attorney's office in Northern California. The judge accused Uber's lawyers of withholding evidence, forcing him to delay the trial until Waymo's lawyers could gather more information.

''I can no longer trust the words of the lawyers for Uber in this case,'' Judge Alsup said. ''If even half of what is in that letter is true, it would be an injustice for Waymo to go to trial.''

Waymo took Uber to court in February, claiming that a former engineer, Anthony Levandowski, conspired with Uber to steal trade secrets from Waymo. Judge Alsup yesterday repeatedly rebuked Uber's lawyers for not sharing the document with the court. ''You should have come clean with this long ago,'' he said.

Waymo requested the judge to delay the trial date to gather more information gleaned from the letter, which was only shared with the judge last week.

The lawyer of a former Uber employee, Richard Jacobs, a security analyst, had written the letter.

Jacobs testified at the hearing that Uber deliberately used messaging technology in order to avoid leaving a paper trail, including apps that automatically delete correspondence. He added that a special team at Uber had been tasked with gathering code and trade secrets from competing businesses.

The 37-page letter added that the team worked ''to evade, impede, obstruct, influence several ongoing lawsuits against Uber,'' according to several reports The Washington Post reported.