In the ongoing court battle between Waymo and Uber, U.S District Judge William Alsup has today delivered his final judgement. And things are not looking any better for the American ride-hailing giant.
Though Uber was looking to drive the decision towards private arbitration to resolve its embroiling battle, the situation seems to have worsened. This is because the federal judge has referred the case to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and asked federal prosecutors to investigate the same. Putting across his points in a filing, Judge Alsup believes the case couldn’t be sent to private arbitration because:
The defendants have repeatedly accused Waymo of using ‘artful’ or ‘tactical’ pleading to evade its arbitration obligations by omitting Levandowski as a defendant. These accusations are unwarranted.
He further added,
Waymo has honored its obligation to arbitrate against Levandowski by arbitrating its claims against Levandowski. Its decision to bring separate claims against defendants in court was not only reasonable but also the only course available since Waymo had no arbitration agreement with defendants.
For those unaware, Waymo slapped Uber with a patent infringement lawsuit claiming that the aforementioned executive stole 9.7GB of internal trade secrets. These included over 14,000 blueprints, design files, and testing documentation, used to build the self-driving truck startup Otto, which was bought by Uber.
Former Googler Anthony Levandowski, the co-founder of Otto, has been alleged of taking off with internal secrets and copying their design to build Uber’s existing LiDAR sensor technology (some of it is allegedly being kept hidden), which is considered an extremely central component of self-driving vehicles.
While being confronted in the federal court, Levandowski decided to keep mum and asserted to his Fifth Amendment privileges so as not to divulge any details of the transaction and wrongdoings. His attorney stated that Levandowski was resorting to the said decision because there was the potential for criminal action, which in turn could lead to self-incrimination. With regards to the decision, Alsup today mentioned in his final ruling,
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. As a practical matter, it is hard to imagine how consolidating proceedings as to Levandowski and defendants, whether here or in arbitration, could alleviate these difficulties.
As if calling an investigation into its practices wasn’t enough, Alsup has even partially granted Waymo’s request for an injunction. He has temporarily filed his opinion on the injunction under seal and we cannot learn specific details and scope of the same immediately. The injunction, coupled with the criminal investigation could prove to be highly detrimental to Uber’s efforts — though it is still trying to keep them alive with a second Canada-based ATG division.
Waymo, on the other hand, is signing up families to begin their on-road public trials in Arizona. Commenting on the court’s decision, a Waymo spokesperson in a statement said,
This was a desperate bid by Uber to avoid the court’s jurisdiction. We welcome the court’s decision today, and we look forward to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct.
While Waymo may not have been able to completely justify that Uber was the one to steal its confidential tech secrets and imply them to build its sensors, but is content about delaying its efforts even further. The ride-hailing giant has been dealt another vital blow to its autonomous efforts and brand image, courtesy of the judge’s decision.
As mentioned above, federal judge Alsup has not only referred the investigation to the Justice Department but has also handed down sealed parchments to each tech giant’s attorneys. In the same, it has granted Waymo’s wish but partially but this will be a nightmarish situation for the ride-hailing giant. Uber’s self-driving efforts have been slapped with a partial injunction. With regards to the same, a tight-lipped Uber spokesperson in a brief statement said,
It is unfortunate that Waymo will be permitted to avoid abiding by the arbitration promise it requires its employees to make. We remain confident in our case and welcome the chance to talk about our independently developed technology any forum.
And as reported earlier, Alphabet’s spin-off self-driving division did resort to private arbitration with its former executive before the company had to aim the gun towards Uber, who was currently employing Levandowski. He may have stepped down from his role at the company’s ATG division but Waymo confronted him and his Otto co-founder Lior Ron over their employee poaching tactics. The Mountain View giant accused them of using confidential compensation info to lure Waymo team members to the ride-hailing giant.
This is a significant uppercut for the ride-hailing giant, who seems to be having a rather bad start of the year. Prior to it was accused of infringing on Waymo’s patent technologies, Uber had already been slapped with misogyny and workplace sexual harassment issues. It has since been battling to maintain its brand image in the public, which seems to be dwindling with regards to its arch-nemesis Lyft. It is also steadily parting ways with some of its most senior-level executives, be it President Jeff Jones or ATG chief Raffi Krikorian.