Uber taken to court over alleged theft of self-driving technology

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A lawsuit filed against Uber by Waymo, a self-driving car company owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google, can move ahead to court, a judge ruled.

Waymo claims that in 2015 one of their former engineers, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded thousands of trade secrets from an internal Google server onto a personal drive six weeks before leaving and founding his own company, Otto, which Uber bought.

Levandowski then went on to lead Uber’s self-driving team.

Uber had tried to block the trial from becoming public, claiming that Levandowski’s employment contract mandates that disputes between him and his former employer be settled in private arbitration, but Judge William Alsup denied the motion, since Waymo has no arbitration agreement with defendants.

“Waymo has honored its obligation to arbitrate against Levandowski by arbitrating its claims concerning employee poaching against Levandowski,” Alsup said. “Even though he is not a defendant here, moreover, 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.”

“This was a desperate bid by Uber to avoid the court’s jurisdiction,” said a Waymo spokesperson in a statement. “We welcome the court’s decision today, and we look forward to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct.”

The judge is now considering a full injunction against Uber, preventing them from using the contested technology and has referred the case to the U.S. Justice Department for potential criminal activity.

“It’s overwhelmingly clear that the downloads occurred,” Alsup said.

The Justice Department is currently investigating Uber for allegedly helping its drivers evade local police.