The federal judge overseeing a trade secret dispute between Uber and the Google spin-off Waymo has recommended that federal prosecutors begin a criminal investigation into the alleged theft of Waymo's self-driving auto technology.
In referring the case to the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation of possible trade secret theft, Alsup said he took "no position" on whether a criminal prosecution was warranted.
When Waymo sued Uber earlier this year, claiming that its former employee stole 14,000 documents containing trade secrets about its self-driving auto project and took the documents to Uber, it was a stain on Uber's reputation. Alsup refers the USA attorney to his order agreeing to Waymo's motion for provisional relief - in the order he granted a partial restriction on Uber's driverless auto program - for the "evidentiary record", but he also chose to seal that order.
Judge Alsup said in his order Thursday that the evidence thus far led him to refer the case to federal prosecutors.
After Uber bought Otto, Levandowski took over oversight of Uber's self-driving vehicle division.
A decision on a plea for an injunction on Uber's alleged use of Waymo's trade secrets is under seal.
Uber has denied using Waymo technology, but the case has been complicated by Levandowski's invocation of his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. From lawsuits to allegations of sexual harassment to a federal investigation into claims that it has used a fake version of its app to thwart authorities, Uber has had a rough year.
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Arbitration would have benefited Uber primarily by keeping the case out of the public spotlight and also by limiting the scope of information sharing, or discovery.
"We remain confident in our case and welcome the chance to talk about our independently developed technology any forum". Uber then acquired his company for $680 million, installing Levandowski as the head of the self-driving research arm.
Waymo's lawyers have argued that Levandowski and Uber were conspiring as early as October of 2015 to steal trade secrets, with Otto serving as little more than a shell company for the hand-off.
Waymo has also charged Uber of of infringing on two of its patents.
Uber has argued that Waymo's lawsuit was just a tactic to stall a competitor in the race for the billions of dollars attached to the coming autonomous vehicle revolution.
Uber didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but Waymo predictably applauded the decision. An Uber spokesperson declined to comment on the matter as well. Uber previously asserted that there should be an arbitrator and not a jury to decide whether there is some strength in Waymo's accusation of a key engineer stealing trade secrets and giving them to Uber. The ride-hailing company has cars in San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Tempe, Ariz.
Uber said in a statement to AFP that it would not comment on the injunction, adding that "the order is now under seal so we can't speculate about what it says".