Uber could face federal charges over alleged theft of Waymo trade secrets

- May 11: A federal judge in San Francisco refers allegations that Uber is using trade secrets stolen from Waymo autonomous vehicle to the U.S. Attorney's office for investigation.

Tensions are rising between Waymo and Uber as the US judge who presided over the case denied a motion to move it into private arbitration, while also referring the case to federal prosecutors.

The lawsuit centers around whether Anthony Levandowski, who used to work at Google's self-driving auto division (now known as Waymo) and had led Uber's self-driving ambitions, left the company with trade secrets.

A U.S. judge yesterday turned down Uber's bid to send its high-profile trade secret dispute with Alphabet's self-driving unit Waymo for arbitration. But assuming that he applied the exacting likelihood-of-success standard to Waymo's evidence that Uber misappropriated trade secrets, Thursday night's rulings mean Uber is now stuck litigating in front of a judge who thinks Waymo has a quite convincing case. If the court finds that Uber used Google's Lidar technology, that will slow Uber's autonomous auto research, leaving it behind competitors.

In an email to employees announcing the change, Levandowski said he hopes his removal from all LiDAR projects will help "keep the team focused on achieving the vision that brought us all here". But the bigger news came shortly after, when Judge Alsup recommended that a US federal attorney begin to look into whether there was criminal theft of trade secrets involved in the case.

The claims in Waymo's lawsuit "never reference" Levandowski's employment contract, the company's lawyer, Charles Verhoeven, told the judge at the hearing.

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Uber didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but Waymo predictably applauded the decision. The document is sealed so it's unclear to what extent Uber will be affected.

"These accusations are unwarranted", Alsup wrote in his ruling. The judge has yet to decide about whether or not to slap Uber with a preliminary injunction, which could limit what kinds of self-driving vehicle work the ride-share company could do. "Defendants have repeatedly accused Waymo of using "artful" or "tactical" pleading to evade its arbitration obligations by omitting Levandowski as a defendant", Alsup said.

Levandowski is not a defendant in the lawsuit, but he had asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to turn over documents relating to the case. The judge also partially granted Waymo's bid for an injunction against Uber's self-driving efforts.

- March 3: A New York Times report reveals that the company has been wielding a secret weapon to thwart authorities who have been trying to curtail or shut down its ride-hailing service in cities around the world.

Waymo is represented by Charles Verhoeven with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan; Uber by Arturo Gonzalez with Morrison & Foerster, both in San Francisco.

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