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Judge refers theft allegations against Uber to US Attorney

13 May 2017

- May 11: A federal judge in San Francisco refers allegations that Uber is using trade secrets stolen from Waymo autonomous auto to the U.S. Attorney's office for investigation.

Judge William Alsup in San Francisco made the referral in an order posted Thursday night.

The news comes less than a month after Andrew Levandowski, the Uber engineer and former Google employee at the heart of Waymo's suit, stepped down from his position as the head of the company's self-driving technology division. Alsup refers the U.S. 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.

But according to judge Alsup, Waymo was not bound to arbitration in this case. The judge also partially granted Waymo's bid for an injunction against Uber's self-driving efforts.

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Uber has not denied that Levandowski took Waymo's documents, but says they never made their way to Uber, nor into its own designs.

And though only parties to an arbitration agreement can invoke arbitration, nonparty Uber said it is entitled to invoke it because Waymo's allegations are connected to those contracts. As the case moves toward a trial - the judge denied Uber's attempt to force it into arbitration on Thursday - the public may eventually have an opportunity to hear Kalanick's side of the story.

Alsup wrote that Levandowski's position "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".

Uber called the denial of arbitration unfortunate, saying in a statement: "We remain confident in our case and welcome the chance to talk about our independently developed technology in any forum". Any company that nails self-driving auto technology is apt to reap billions by licensing its tech to those operating fleets of ride-hailing vehicles.

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Waymo alleges that in mid-2015, Anthony Levandowski, one of its self-driving vehicle engineers, met with top executives at Uber about finding a way for the latter to acquire Waymo's engineering team and its lidar technology (which helps self-driving cars "see"). Alsup, in his filing, said the case that Levandowski stole trade secrets seemed clear-cut to him. This is close to a worst-case scenario for Uber as it desperately tried to avoid the case from going into public. Waymo's suing Uber in court "was not only reasonable but also the only course available", he wrote.

In an email to employees announcing the change, Levandowski said he hopes his removal from all LiDAR projects will help "keep the team focused on achieving the vision that brought us all here".

The ride-hailing company had referred to Waymo's own arbitration proceedings against Levandowski as the basis for its argument in favor of arbitration. In court last week, Uber's lawyer Gonzalez said "we'll produce our CEO for deposition".

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Judge refers theft allegations against Uber to US Attorney