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May 18, 2015

California man sues Uber claiming it stole ride-sharing idea

A California man has sued Uber Technologies Inc and its Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick, claiming they stole his idea for a cellphone-based car hailing service.

Kevin Halpern sued Uber, Kalanick and several early investors in the company in San Francisco Superior Court on Thursday, accusing them of misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of contract. The complaint claims he suffered damages in excess of $1 billion.

Uber, the San Francisco-based ride sharing company that was valued at $40 billion in its last funding round, called the claims "completely baseless" and vowed to fight them.

Halpern founded a company called Celluride Wireless in 2003, six years before Uber was created.

In a video on YouTube, Halpern said, "Kalanick created an exact replica of Celluride and called it Uber."

Halpern, who grew up in New York, said in the video he understood the difficulty in getting taxis and wanted to create a way to bring drivers and passengers together using cellphones and GPS technology.

According to the complaint, he registered the Celluride website in 2003 and developed a mobile phone prototype in 2006. It was then, the complaint said, that he encountered Kalanick at an office Kalanick was renting from his friend in San Francisco.

Halpern said in the complaint that with Kalanick's promises to keep the information confidential, he shared his concept, designs and prototype.

Halpern's attorney, Christopher Dolan, who has handled other civil cases against Uber, said at a press conference on Thursday that "as the creator of the ride-sharing industry concept, (Halpern) feels he has been left out of the company by the people he worked with."

Halpern is also suing Uber investors Bill Trenchard of First Round Capital, Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital and Scott Belsky.

In 2009, Halpern sued Anu Shukla, the founder of Offerpal Media, which is now known as Tapjoy, for allegedly violating an agreement and cutting him out of that company. The case was thrown out by a California state judge after Halpern disobeyed discovery orders.

Dolan could not be immediately reached on Friday.

The case is Kevin Halpern & Celluride Wireless Inc v. Uber Technologies Inc et al, No. 15-545825, in the Superior Court for the City and County of San Francisco.