The case, which was being heard in San Francisco, has now been referred to the US Attorney for investigation, by District Judge William Alsup.
Self-driving auto guru Anthony Levandowski leaves Google and launches his own self-driving trucking company, Otto. Otto was later acquired by Uber. Levandowski's employee agreement with Google clearly said that "any dispute" about his relationship with the company should go into arbitration. Alsup also partially granted Waymo a bid for an injunction, albeit temporarily under seal, so its scope and details could not immediately be learned. Levandowski, a phenom in the world of self-driving cars, left the company in early 2016 to start his own company, Otto, dedicated to figuring out automated long-haul trucking.
Judge Alsup made a point during the hearing of saying that Waymo's lawyers had proven their case against Levandowski stealing the technology, but he was notably less certain about whether Uber was complicit in the theft, suggesting that the company could be entirely innocent and simply hired a talented engineer. "We welcome the court's decision today, and we look forward to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct", the statement said. Waymo had sought to compel the return of its documents and to bar Uber from using lidar technology it said was stolen.
In a pileup of bad news for Uber, a federal judge Thursday ruled that it must face a civil trial on accusations of filching driverless vehicle technology from Google spinoff Waymo, and asked federal prosecutors to consider launching a criminal investigation. And it insists that same info helped Uber fast-track its driverless vehicle efforts, avoiding years of costly research and development.
Waymo alleges that Anthony Levandowski - a former top manager for Google's self-driving auto project and now the executive running Uber's self-driving auto division - stole pivotal technology propelling Uber's effort to build autonomous vehicles.
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In another blow, the judge denied Uber's request to move the case out of the courts and into arbitration. "Instead, Otto and Uber have taken Waymo's intellectual property so that they could avoid incurring the risk, time, and expense of independently developing their own technology".
Judge Alsup also referred the case to the state attorney, suggesting an investigation into the alleged theft of Waymo's trade secrets, but offered no opinion on whether the matter should be criminally prosecuted.
In a statement, Waymo, part of Alphabet Inc., called Uber's arbitration request a "desperate bid" to avoid the court. But Judge Alsup read them as implicit accusations - and found them to be "unwarranted". However, an Uber employee who's worked alongside Levandowski for years says that there's a second, hush-hush version of Uber's autonomous system that does, in fact, employ Waymo's designs.
Uber will undergo an investigation related to the accusations of trade secret theft, a USA judge ordered on Thursday.