Uber Technologies Inc.’s move last month to demote the engineer who led its driverless-car unit to keep him away from related laser technology was deemed adequate to safeguard trade secrets that rival Waymo alleges were stolen, a judge said.
Anthony Levandowski must remain quarantined from Uber’s work on lidar, the laser component that helps an autonomous vehicle see its surroundings, until the lawsuit by his former employer, Waymo, is resolved, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said. He issued the ruling on Thursday, but didn’t make it public until the companies had redacted sensitive material.
Alsup stopped short of issuing a broader order that may have stalled Uber’s program for the duration of the court battle, saying he didn’t find clear evidence of wrongdoing by the ride-hailing company. He granted Waymo’s bid for expedited discovery. A trial is scheduled for October.
Both companies claimed success, with Waymo saying it would use the speedier discovery schedule to “hold Uber fully responsible for its misconduct.” Uber hailed the decision as allowing it to “continue building and utilizing all of its self-driving technology” and said that a trial will “demonstrate that our technology has been built independently.”
Waymo claims that in October 2015, Levandowski and Uber hatched a plan for him to steal confidential information. Two months later, Waymo alleges he downloaded more than 14,000 proprietary files, including the designs for lidar technology that helps driverless cars see their surroundings, to his personal laptop. The next month, Levandowski quit and started Otto LLC, which Uber bought that August.
On Thursday, Alsup also referred the allegations to prosecutors to review for a possible criminal case. Levandowski, who isn’t a defendant in Waymo’s suit, has refused to testify, asserting his rights against self-incrimination.
The case is Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies Inc., 17-cv-00939, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).