Published: Sat, May 13, 2017
Tech | By Constance Martin

Uber vs Waymo: Judge refers theft allegations to USA attorney

Uber vs Waymo: Judge refers theft allegations to USA attorney

Uber had sought private arbitration to review Waymo's claims that Uber and ex-Google engineer conspired to steal key autonomous driving intellectual property from the Alphabet subsidiary.

That case concerns an piece of software developed by Uber called Greyball, which was created to mislead regulators about the company's operations.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco also partially granted Alphabet's self-driving Waymo unit's bid for an injunction against Uber's self-driving efforts, and rejected Uber's arguments that Waymo's trade secret allegations should proceed in private arbitration.

Things are not looking for Uber. The fight centers around an engineer named Anthony Levandowski, who was deeply involved in Google's self-driving vehicle initiative before leaving to found a start-up, Otto, which went on to be acquired by Uber. That criminal investigation is ongoing, according to people familiar with the matter.

A US judge on Thursday rejected Uber's [UBER.UL] bid to send its high-profile trade secret dispute with Alphabet's GOOGL.O self-driving Waymo unit to a private legal forum, a setback for the ride services company.

"This is bad news for Uber", said Timothy Heaphy, a former USA attorney for the Western District of Virginia, who now chairs a white collar defense and internal investigations practice at the law firm Hunton & Williams. Levandowski's employee agreement with Google clearly said that "any dispute" about his relationship with the company should go into arbitration. Waymo filed the lawsuit in February.

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Also Thursday, Alsup issued a ruling on Waymo's request for an order to stop Uber's work on autonomous vehicles while the lawsuit is decided, but the ruling was temporarily sealed because it contained confidential information.

Uber declined to comment, citing the seal on some of the documents.

"We look forward to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct", Waymo said in a statement.

Uber has always been celebrated in Silicon Valley for its hard-charging culture - and for its strategy of moving into cities before getting permission from authorities.

Just when Uber thought that its legal battle against Waymo would end up costing them their self-driving business at worst, here comes the hammer of justice to prove them wrong. However, in previous hearings, Alsup said that Google has strong evidence that Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski illegally downloaded 14,000 files while he was employed at Google. Over the next several months, in quick succession, Levandowski resigned from Waymo, formed a self-driving truck company known as Otto Trucking, and worked with Uber to prepare for Otto's acquisition. Uber claimed its own technology was significantly different.

Earlier this week, Uber suffered a huge legal setback when a European Union judge ruled that it was a transport company and could be required to get licenses and permits in the 28 EU nations.

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