Judge Asks Criminal Probe in Uber-Waymo Dispute

Uber got bad news Thursday from a federal judge presiding over a trade secrets theft case in which Uber was accused by Google company Waymo of stealing its driverless car technology.

William Alsup
Judge William Alsup

U.S. District Judge William Alsup refused Uber’s request to force Waymo to take its claims to an arbitration arena and get out of federal court. And on top of that Alsup referred the case to the U.S. attorney to review for potential prosecution.

Waymo has claimed its former employee Anthony Levandowski violated two agreements he signed promising to protect confidential information. The company claims Levandowski downloaded 14,000 confidential files from Waymo just before he resigned in January 2016 and allegedly used them to set up a competing company Otto.

Uber acquired Otto in August 2016 for $680 million. Among Waymo’s assertions are that Levandowski met with Uber executives before he resigned and that Uber allegedly knew it was getting Waymo technology.

Waymo sued Uber in February 2017 and Otto, but did not name Levandowski in the suit.

Alsup refused to order Waymo to take its allegations of employee poaching to arbitration.

During the pre-trial skirmishing, Levandowski asserted his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions.

“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,” Alsup wrote. “As a practical matter, it is hard to imagine how consolidating proceedings as to Levandowski and defendants, whether here or in arbitration could alleviate these difficulties,” he wrote.

Following that order, Alsup issued a separate order referring the case to the U.S. attorney “for investigation of possible theft of trade secrets.”  Alsup noted he took no position on whether prosecution is warranted and left the decision up to the U.S. attorney.

Case: Waymo v. Uber, No. 17-cv-939


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