California
11 May 2017
Reporter: Barney Dixon

Uber-Waymo dispute referred for criminal investigation


The trade secret dispute between Uber and Alphabet subsidiary Waymo has been recommended for a criminal investigation.

District Judge William Alsup, hearing the litigation in the US District Court of the Northern District of California after Waymo accused Uber of trade secret theft and unfair competition, referred the case to for prosecution on 11 May and denied Uber’s motion to compel arbitration.

Judge Alsup said that the strength of evidence against Anthony Levandowksi, whose company Otto was bought by Uber in August 2016, was the strongest he’d seen in 42 years. In his recommendation for a criminal investigation, Judge Alsup said “the court takes no position on whether a prosecution is or is not warranted”.

When Uber bought Otto, it appointed Levandowksi, who previously worked at Waymo, as its head of self-driving technology.

Otto’s LiDAR sensor technology was one of the key reasons Uber acquired the company, according to Waymo.

But Waymo claimed that it owns the LiDAR technology and that, six weeks before his resignation, Levandowksi downloaded more than 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for various hardware systems, including LiDAR.

Levandowski has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions about the case.

Judge Alsup addressed this: “Levandowski’s assertion of his Fifth Amendment privilege has obstructed and continues to obstruct both discovery and defendants’ ability to construct a complete narrative as to the fate of Waymo’s purloined files.”

With regards to the arbitration, Alsup said that Uber had attempted to “steer this case into arbitration even though they have no agreement with anyone to arbitrate the case”.

“Instead, they rely on a non-party’s employment agreements with the plaintiff, which contained an arbitration clause, and attempt to invoke ‘equitable estoppel’.”

The judge also granted Waymo a preliminary injunction against Uber, although information as to its effect has been kept confidential.

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