Judge Refers Theft Allegations Against Uber to US Attorney

Reuters

Reuters

U.S. District Judge William Alsup late Thursday referred Google parent Alphabet Inc.'s lawsuit against Uber to the U.S. Attorney's Office, asking federal prosecutors to probe Alphabet's claims that one of its former executives colluded with Uber to steal 14,000 files related to driverless-car design.

Google's Waymo self-driving vehicle division filed a lawsuit against Uber in February, saying that Levandowski stole trade secrets, then left Google to found his own startup, Otto. The judge handling the case has already referred the lawsuit to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which could then result in a criminal investigation.

The judge wrote in the order that he made the referral based on evidence supplied in the case thus far. Alsup said he took "no position" on whether a criminal prosecution was warranted. Uber later purchased Otto for $680 million.

Hamish P.M. Hume, a lawyer for Uber, told the judge at an April 27 hearing that if Levandowski had been added as a defendant, the case would certainly go to arbitration.

Waymo's lawyers provided two key pieces of evidence to back up its claim: one showing that Levandowski was granted five million Uber shares - now worth over $250m - on the day he left Waymo, January 28, 2016, rather than the day his company, Otto, was acquired.

On Thursday, Alsup said Levandowski's stonewalling has "obstructed" the case.

The highly publicized legal battle between Google's self-driving auto spin-off, Waymo, and car-hailing major, Uber, will go to trial after unsuccessful attempts by Uber to force the lawsuit into private arbitration. Uber declined to comment on the referral to the US Attorney. It made headlines when a former employee accused Uber of enabling sexual harassment, and again when protestors rallying against U.S. president Donald Trump's travel ban accused Uber of profiting off of a taxi strike at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The case centers on Levandowski's alleged theft of a trove of blueprints and documents relating to the self-driving vehicle technology known as LiDAR when he was an outgoing employee of Google.

"This was a desperate bid by Uber to avoid the court's jurisdiction", a Waymo spokesman said in a statement. But Judge Alsup read them as implicit accusations - and found them to be "unwarranted". Waymo also claims that it's uncovered correspondence showing that Uber began to woo Levandowski before he left Google.

These are subtle criticisms, to be sure, but in combination with the judge's pointed defense of Waymo's pleadings, they're not a good portent for Uber.

Two, there will be an ugly and very public court fight between Waymo and Uber, since the possibility of arbitration has been removed.

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".

"We remain confident in our case and welcome the chance to talk about our independently developed technology any forum".

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