Judge Refers Theft Allegations Against Uber to US Attorney

Posted May 13, 2017

A USA judge on Thursday rejected Uber's [UBER.UL] bid to send its high-profile trade secret dispute with Alphabet's GOOGL.O self-driving Waymo unit to a private legal forum, a setback for the ride services company.

The judge presiding over the case between Uber and Google's self-driving division Waymo is Judge William Alsup, Tech Crunch reports, and he made the referral Thursday night. Waymo alleges that Anthony Levandowski - a former top manager for Google's self-driving auto project and now the executive running Uber's self-driving auto division - stole pivotal technology propelling Uber's effort to build autonomous vehicles.

"It is very rare for a judge to refer a matter over to the US 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 court takes no position on whether a prosecution is or is not warranted", he wrote in his order. Levandowski, a phenom in the world of self-driving cars, left the company in early 2016 to start his own company, Otto, dedicated to figuring out automated long-haul trucking.

In a statement, Waymo said Uber's bid to have the civil case heard in private by an arbitrator, not a jury, was a "desperate" attempt to avoid the court's jurisdiction.

Levandowski said he'll step aside from Uber's autonomous driving program while the case proceeds, but Recode-citing multiple anonymous sources-says Uber engineers aren't wasting any time to seek work elsewhere. The probe, combined with other legal and image woes, will reduce Uber's value and in the worst case could threaten the San Francisco company's existence if investors leave, criminal charges bring huge fines and legal action stalls autonomous vehicle research, the experts say. Somewhat ironically, Levandoswki isn't named as a defendant in Waymo's lawsuit against Uber.

It alleges that Uber is using trade secrets stolen by a former Google engineer, Anthony Levandowski, who formed his own company which was bought by Uber $680 million.

Uber did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Uber buys Otto, acquiring Levandowski in the process.

Uber has seen a string of high-profile executive departures following a controversy over sexual harassment and discrimination. Said evidentiary record is described in detail in the Court's order, also issued today, on Waymo's motion for provisional relief. Waymo said Uber used its tech to avoid years of costly research. "These accusations are unwarranted". Judge Alsup, however, disagrees but hasn't taken a stance on whether there is really a criminal case involved. In a statement the company said "we remain confident in our case and welcome the chance to talk about our independently developed technology".

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".