Waymo's claims of trade secret theft could result in criminal case

Waymo's claims of trade secret theft could result in criminal case


A judge has asked federal prosecutors to investigate Uber for "possible theft of trade secrets" on autonomous auto technology from its rival, Alphabet-owned Waymo.

In a separate order (PDF), US District Judge William Alsup referred the case to the US attorney for investigation, "based on the evidentiary record supplied thus far".

A quick refresher on the case against Uber: Alphabet, the holding company formed by Google to contain companies like Waymo (formerly just a division within Google dedicated to automated cars) employed Anthony Levandowski as one of the main engineers in charge of Waymo's self-driving-car efforts.

"It is very rare for a judge to refer a matter over to the USA attorney and signals the judge's displeasure with Uber in the trade secrets civil lawsuit", said Carl Tobias Williams, chair in law at the University of Richmond School of Law.

The request shows that the legal battle over the autonomous vehicle technology is starting to heat up, much to Uber's chagrin.

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".

"This order holds that defendants have not shown the elements necessary to justify application of equitable estoppel", Alsup ruled [PDF]. The specter of possible criminal implications has always been looming over the case; Its referral to the United States attorney has added a new layer of intrigue and drama to an already high-stakes legal battle between two tech titans.

"These accusations are unwarranted", Alsup wrote in his ruling.

- 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.

Uber has said in court that it never possessed and used any information Levandowski allegedly took from Waymo. Meanwhile, Levandowski has refused to turn over his personal laptop or answer most other questions posed by Waymo's lawyers while asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Waymo issued its own statement saying, "This was a desperate bid by Uber to avoid the court's jurisdiction".

Uber was less impressed.

Uber said in a statement to AFP that it would not comment on the injunction, adding that "the order is now under seal so we can't speculate about what it says".

California-based ride-sharing service Uber acquired commercial transport-focused tech startup Otto late previous year as the company pressed ahead with its pursuit of self-driving technology.

Alsup also has issued a ruling, which remains under seal, on Waymo's request for an injunction against Uber that would effectively halt its self-driving auto testing program, which would be a stumbling block in Uber's ambitions to develop fully autonomous vehicles.

  • Terrell Bush