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Judgement day: The Waymo vs Uber case continues

Judgement day has arrived for Waymo vs Uber (Photo: Fotolia)

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Kate Mann
Kate Mann
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Judge refers the trade secret dispute over alleged stolen technology to the U.S. attorney.

For months now, the automated driving world has watched on as Google’s Waymo and Uber have traded blows in a high-profile dispute. Finally, judgement day has arrived.

This all began back in February when the internet giant filed a lawsuit against its ride-sharing counterpart on the grounds of “calculated theft” of its LIDAR technology. This pertains to longtime Google employee Anthony Levandowski having allegedly downloaded some 14,000 documents from Google servers before leaving the company to co-found Otto – a self-driving truck start-up. Uber went on to buy Otto and made Levandowski head of its Advanced Technology group. This week during the hearing, Waymo ramped up its accusation and claimed that Otto was a “shell company” and that Uber had a master plan all along.

So the situation prior to today’s verdict was this: Uber denies having used any Waymo technology or having had any knowledge of Levandowski’s actions and has attempted to force the case into arbitration (a form of alternative dispute resolution that takes place behind closed doors, outside of the courts). Waymo, on the other hand, has requested a temporary injunction to put a halt to its rival’s work in the field. More specifically, it sought to compel the return of all documents and to ban Uber from using the LIDAR technology it claims was stolen.

That brings us to the present day – and the eagerly anticipated ruling of federal judge, William Alsup on these matters. First and foremost, he has recommended that the case should be brought to federal prosecutors to begin a criminal investigation into the alleged theft. Secondly, he has denied Uber’s attempt to go to arbitration and thirdly, he has partly granted Waymo’s request for a temporary injunction – although the details of this, according to The Guardian newspaper, are sealed.

The complication all along has been Levandowski’s invocation of the fifth amendment whereby he refuses to answer questions or grant access to his personal computer. “Pleading the fifth” protects against self-incrimination – but it has been a headache for the judge. According to The Guardian report, Judge Alsup wrote: “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.”

Waymo, according to The Guardian, welcomed the ruling, stating: “We look forward to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct.” Uber had not commented at the time of writing.

Just to be clear, today’s verdict has not ruled on whether or not prosecution is warranted – that decision now lies in the hands of the United States Attorney. However, Judge Alsup did apparently pass comment on the strength of the evidence that suggests Levandowski downloaded the documents, saying during court hearings that he had “never seen a record this strong in 42 years.”

So what could this all mean? Well, with the introduction of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) in 2016, prosecution – if it were to come to that – could occur at federal level rather than state level. Theoretically, that could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years. For now though, it seems the saga continues.

Read the full article in The Guardian here.

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