Published: Sat, May 13, 2017
Science | By Carlton Santiago

Judge refers theft allegations against Uber to prosecutors

Judge refers theft allegations against Uber to prosecutors

A federal judge on Thursday referred Waymo's theft allegations to the U.S. Attorney's office for investigation.

Uber argued its rival's trade secret theft allegations should go ahead in private arbitration, but U.S. district judge William Alsup ruled against it.

Waymo, a self-driving vehicle company owned by Google parent Alphabet Inc., sued Uber in February alleging that Uber is using stolen self-driving technology to build its own fleet of autonomous cars.

While Judge Alsup did not imply whether or not criminal charges were in order, he made it amply clear that Waymo had a "strong" case against Levandowski. Alsup refers the United States attorney to his order agreeing to Waymo's motion for provisional relief - in the order he granted a partial restriction on Uber's driverless vehicle program - for the "evidentiary record", but he also chose to seal that order.

Alsup said that he took "no position" on whether a criminal probe would be warranted, and said that "decision entirely [is] up to the United States Attorney".

Uber had already announced that Levandowski would step aside from working on Lidar while the case was being litigated, and said the company would agree to a court injunction that formalized that arrangement. Uber bought that startup, Otto, for $680 million in August 2016.

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".

Uber previously asserted that there should be an arbitrator and not a jury to decide whether there is some strength in Waymo's accusation of a key engineer stealing trade secrets and giving them to Uber.

According to Waymo, the "calculated theft" netted employees of Otto, Uber's self-driving truck company, "over half a billion dollars" and allowed Uber to "revive a stalled programme, all at Waymo's expense".

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Waymo has asked the court to issue an order preventing Uber from using Waymo's alleged trade secrets, and to bar Levandowski from working on Uber's self-driving auto technology.

Uber did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Waymo sued Uber and Otto in February over the alleged theft but did not name Levandowski as a defendant.

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

Uber denies these allegations. Waymo said Uber used its tech to avoid years of costly research.

With the case now being referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office, it's highly likely the nastiest rivalry in Silicon Valley will only continue to get more heated.

Waymo vs. Uber: what's the lawsuit about?

"We welcome the court's decision today, and we look forward to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct".

Waymo claims the stolen information made its way into Uber's Lidar system, a sensor that uses light pulses to "see" the environment. Wrote Judge William Alsup.

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

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