Friday, 28 July, 2017

Uber-Waymo Referred For Criminal Prosecution, Private Arbitration Rejected

Reuters Reuters
Heather Davidson | 13 May, 2017, 09:51

The case comes at a time when the self-driving vehicle business is fiercely competitive - and any setback could impact companies' abilities to test their cars on the road and beat rivals to market. Levandowski's employee agreement with Google clearly said that "any dispute" about his relationship with the company should go into arbitration.

Waymo is a company developing self-driving cars that is owned by Alphabet, which is also the parent company of Google. However, Alsup filed his injunction opinion temporarily under seal, meaning its scope and details could not immediately be learned.

Waymo was asking Alsup to both grant an injunction requiring Uber to stop testing its self-driving cars as well as remove Levandowski from all autonomous vehicle projects at Uber. The files include information on Waymo's secret LiDAR system, a laser-based scanning and mapping technology its driverless cars use to "see" their surroundings.

"It is unfortunate that Waymo will be permitted to avoid abiding by the arbitration promise it requires its employees to make", a spokesperson from Uber said.

"U.S. District Judge William Alsup also declined Uber's request to move the case to arbitration, which means that the raging legal battle between Waymo and Uber will continue to unfold publicly".

"This order holds that defendants have not shown the elements necessary to justify application of equitable estoppel", Alsup ruled [PDF].

This mess of allegations and rebuttals is particularly fraught for Uber given Levandowski's reportedly cozy relationship with CEO Travis Kalanick.

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Otto's LiDAR sensor technology was one of the key reasons Uber acquired the company, according to Waymo. The engineer has not commented publicly on the allegations.

On Thursday, Alsup said Levandowski's stonewalling has "obstructed" the case. Unlike court proceedings, which are largely conducted in public, arbitrations take place behind closed doors.

John Marsh, a trade secrets litigator and partner at the firm Bailey Cavalieri, said it's rare for a case like Waymo v. Uber to be referred to a U.S. attorney so early on. Alsup told Waymo earlier this month that the company had only proved Levandowski downloaded 14,000 documents, but not that he handed them over to Uber.

Levandowski has tried to stay out of the fray, looking to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. "These accusations are unwarranted". Levandowski remains employed by Uber but removes himself as much as possible from the technology that sits at the center of the case.

At a May 3 hearing on Waymo's motion for a preliminary injunction barring Uber from using more than 100 of its trade secrets pending trial, Alsup suggested he would deny the injunction and instead grant Waymo provisional relief barring Uber from using only some of the trade secrets, because it is unclear whether certain secrets belong to Waymo or are public knowledge.

Like this report? Sign up for our daily newsletter to get our top reports. Waymo accuses Uber and Levandowski of being partners in crime and stealing the files after the ride-sharing company purchased the start-up for $680 million.

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