Kevin Halpern—“Entrepreneur, Ride Sharing Pioneer, Environmental Filmmaker, Aspiring Yogi, Organic Lover, Chinese & Ayurvedic Medicine Devotee, Essential Oil Disciple,” according to his Facebook page—has filed a $1-billion lawsuit (pdf) against Uber founders and investors, claiming they stole his idea for an app-based ride-sharing service.
Halpern’s complaint, filed in San Francisco Superior Court against the S.F.-based company, claims he was the “inventor of the idea, concept, coding, design, appearance, application and prototype” of what eventually became Uber. The suit alleges misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of contract.
The lawsuit says Halpern called it Celluride when he conceived the idea in 2002, and was developing it through his company Celluride Wireless in 2006 when he met future Uber founder Travis Kalanick. After a verbal promise not to tell anyone else, Halpern says, he told Kalanick all about it and showed him a mobile phone prototype. A year later, Halpern told fellow Cornell University alumnus Bill Trenchard about it.
Kalanick co-founded Uber in 2009 with Garrett Camp, also named in the suit, and received early funding from Trenchard, also named. Kalanick and Camp have long told the story that they conceived Uber in Paris when they couldn’t get a taxi. But Halpern opens a video posted to YouTube, “Grand Theft Uber,” by citing four different stories told by the founders, and pronounces them all lies.
Halpern said he showed them detailed financial spreadsheets, project flowcharts and promotional materials right up until he stopped actively pursuing the venture, for financial reasons—in 2009. He turned, instead, to environmental filmmaking.
Uber is valued at $40 billion, based on $5.9 billion in funding from investors, and says it operates in 57 countries. The company has a reputation for aggressively taking on regulatory agencies, the competition and critics, and a track record of ethically-challenged decision-making.
Last year, it became known that Uber employed a tool it called “God View” to track Uber cars and compile customer history. BuzzFeed reporter Johana Bhuiyan wrote that Uber New York general manager Josh Mohrer greeted her unexpectedly outside his headquarters, held up his iPhone and said, “I was tracking you.” He also cited her tracking data during an interview to make a point. Around that time, Uber Senior Vice President Emil Michael mused at a high-powered New York dinner party about spending $1 million to gather dirt on the company’s critics.
Uber is engaged in lawsuits with government agencies around the world that have problems with employee behavior and the company’s business model, predicated on limiting any regulatory framework that ensures fair rates, insurance, safety and reliability while avoiding taxes.
Halpern has also had a few legal encounters. He sued Offerpal Media founders Anu Shukla and Michael Liu in 2009, claiming he was illegally cut out of the social media monetization company. He collected some money from Liu but the action against Shukla was dismissed. The next year the company changed its name to Tapjoy and Shukla left after a scandal over “scam offers” in social online games.
Halpern also sued the city of Santa Cruz after he was arrested and charged with being under the influence of an illegal stimulant. That suit was dismissed.