Sci-tech

Judge refers theft allegations against Uber to prosecutors

Judge refers theft allegations against Uber to prosecutors

Waymo, which is owned by Google parent company Alphabet, sued Uber in February, alleging that the ride-sharing company had orchestrated the "calculated theft" of its lidar technology.

Waymo alleges that Uber and Mr Levandowski conspired to create the self-driving auto start-up Otto so that Uber could appear to have legitimately acquired the same technology as Waymo was using.

DETROIT (AP) — A federal judge has referred trade secret theft allegations made against Uber by Google's autonomous auto unit to the U.S. Attorney's office for investigation.

The judge overseeing a court case levied against Uber by Waymo over the alleged theft of trade secrets has recommended that federal prosecutors also investigate the matter. It also compounds Uber's other legal problems, he said in an interview Friday.

Uber had asked U.S. District Judge William Alsup to send Waymo's claims to arbitration, but Alsup refused, and referred the case to the U.S. attorney "based on the evidentiary record supplied thus far".

The move heightens the drama of the case by adding the specter of criminal prosecution to the legal battle that already is poised to have major implications for Uber's autonomous vehicle program and the entire self-driving auto industry.

In addition to the apparent inquiry into the software called "Greyball" to impede city inspectors, Uber still has to deal with Waymo's high-stakes espionage lawsuit.

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Alsup also temporarily blocked part of Uber's self-driving program using technology that Waymo claims to be stolen, but it was unclear how much of the program would be suspended because documents of the partial injunction were sealed.

Uber did not return a request for comment.

In a separate order on Thursday, judge Alsup said that Mr Levandowski's decision to invoke his fifth amendment right against self incrimination had "obstructed and continues to obstruct both discovery and [Uber's] 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", Johnny Luu, a company spokesperson, wrote in an email.

The trade secrets battle could basically determine the future outcome of Uber's self-driving vehicle operations whilst also strengthen Waymo's position in the sector. Shortly after, Google says it dug into Levandowski's behavior before before he left Waymo and found that he downloaded around 14,000 documents to a personal hard drive from its servers and then reinstalled his OS in an attempt to cover his tracks.

Uber acquired Otto for $680m (£540m) previous year, at which point Mr Levandowski began to oversee Uber's work on developing autonomous cars.

According to Waymo, Levandowski used the stolen technology to entice Uber into buying his self-driving truck startup Otto for $680 million six months after it launched in 2016. If this case goes against them, it could effectively put them out of the running in the race to autonomous vehicle technology.


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