Uber fires autonomous car researcher involved in lawsuit
- Author: Santos West May 31, 2017,
May 31, 2017, 5:45
Levandowski is the man at the center of Uber's intense legal battle with Waymo, the self-driving vehicle unit of Google's parent Alphabet. The judge ordered that Levandowski step down from leading Uber's self-driving auto efforts - though Uber confirmed that he has not led the team since April - and was barred from doing any related work.
Uber on Tuesday confirmed that it has fired an engineer accused in a trade secrets suit involving files he purportedly purloined from Alphabet's self-driving auto unit Waymo.
Meanwhile, Alsup also has referred the case to the U.S. Attorney for a possible criminal investigation.
"Waymo has supplied a compelling record that Levandowski pilfered over 14,000 files from Waymo, and that Uber knew or should have known as much when it brought him on board", Alsup said in his order. On May 15, the company's top brass sent Levandowski a brusque letter reminding him that failure to abide by its directives with regard to the case could result in his sacking. It said that Levandowski was sacked for cause and that he has a contractual right to correct "deficiencies" within 20 days.
Mr. Levandowski and his lawyers didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Under those terms, Levandowski promised that he wasn't sharing any trade secrets or proprietary information from his previous employer. Levandowski had stepped aside from leading the company's self-driving efforts last month as the court battle kicked off. Levandowski has asserted his rights under the Fifth Amendment since Waymo filed its lawsuit in February. His firing means he will not see that compensation, Uber officials said.
Levandowski's expertise in robot-controlled cars is the main reason that the ride-hailing company bought his startup for $680 million nine months ago. The company is testing autonomous cars with real passengers in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. It is Waymo that is suing Uber for the alleged theft of trade secrets by Levandowski.
He has declined to cooperate, citing his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.
Earlier in May, a federal judge formally blocked Levandowski from all Lidar-related work at the company.
"Over the last few months Uber has provided significant evidence to the court to demonstrate that our self-driving technology has been developed independently", Angela Pedilla, Uber's associate general council for employment and litigation, wrote in an email to employees.