Jacobs testified at Tuesday's hearing that Uber deliberately used messaging technology to avoid leaving a paper trail, including apps that automatically delete correspondence. He said that a special team at Uber was tasked with gathering code and trade secrets from competing businesses. According to the 37-page letter from his lawyer, that team also worked “to evade, impede, obstruct, influence several ongoing lawsuits against Uber,” several reports said.
The letter that prompted the judge to delay the trial was brought to the court's attention by the Department of Justice. Federal prosecutors are using the same document to investigate Uber's alleged efforts to steal trade secrets from competitors, according to the Associated Press. Tuesday's hearing was the first time that criminal investigation was revealed to the public, the report said. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of California declined to comment.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup agreed with Waymo's request to postpone the proceedings, saying “if even half of what this letter says is true, it would be a huge injustice to force Waymo to go to trial,” according to multiple reports.
“The evidence brought to light over the weekend by the U.S. Attorney’s office and revealed, in part, today in Court is significant and troubling,” Waymo spokesman Johnny Luu said in a statement. “The continuance we were granted gives us the opportunity to fully investigate this new, highly relevant information.”
The trial was set in motion in February, when Waymo sued Uber, accusing former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski of taking 14,000 pages of documents before he left in January 2016 to found autonomous truck start-up Otto, which Uber acquired 7 months later.
An Uber spokesperson said in a statement, "None of the testimony today changes the merits of the case. Jacobs himself said on the stand today that he was not aware of any Waymo trade secrets being stolen."
The latest development in the Waymo legal battle comes as Uber is attempting to repair its reputation and overhaul its workplace culture following high-profile sexual harassment complaints and lawsuits. The company also faces multiple federal investigations on top of the trade secrets probe. Government authorities are examining allegations of bribery, discriminatory pricing and efforts to evade law enforcement.
Uber is also reeling from a recently disclosed data breach, in which the personal information of 57 million customers and drivers was stolen. Washington state filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that Uber violated the law by failing to notify affected customers in a timely manner. Uber waited more than a year to disclose the data breach to the public. The city of Chicago on Monday filed a separate suit against Uber stemming from the hack, and at least three other lawsuits are seeking class-action status.