Waymo, Uber to Go to Trial over Theft of Trade Secrets, Could become a Criminal Case

Waymo vs Uber could become a criminal case

The highly publicized legal battle between Google’s self-driving car spin-off, Waymo, and car-hailing major, Uber, will go to trial after unsuccessful attempts by Uber to force the lawsuit into private arbitration. Even more stunning is the fact that presiding U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup has referred the case to federal prosecutors to see if criminal charges were in order.

According to a Forbes report, Waymo has requested Judge Alsup for an injunction halting Uber’s self-driving tests for the time being, which was granted “in part,” meaning Uber could be forced to stop its R&D work on self-driving car technology until the verdict is out.

Furthermore, a criminal case could be extremely damaging for Uber, and if the ruling goes against them, the man at the center of it all, Anthony Levandowski, could be in deep trouble. The man who was once the star of Google’s self-driving car ambitions now faces an uncertain future, as does the company that allegedly benefitted from the “theft” of information, Uber.

While Judge Alsup did not imply whether or not criminal charges were in order, he made it amply clear that Waymo had a “strong” case against Levandowski. At a hearing on May 3, Judge Alsup told Levandowski:

“It’s overwhelmingly clear that the downloads occurred. You have one of the strongest records I’ve seen in a long time of anyone doing something that’s bad. Good for you.”

Last week, the Justice Department opened another, separate investigation into Uber’s practice of using a tool codenamed “Greyball” that helped their drivers avoid detection by transport authorities. Uber has allegedly been using these devices in cities where it was explicitly illegal to do so. We hope to hear more about that in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Apple nearly kicked the Uber app out of its App Store for iOS after its security team discovered that the Uber app was tracking users even after they had removed the app from their iPhones and other iDevices. After a high-level discussion between Apple CEO Tim Cook and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, that matter appears to be resolved, at least for now.

Uber now stands in an extremely precarious position as a company. Its biggest bid to future-proof itself – self-driving technology is now under the guillotine based on what the jury decides. If this case goes against them, it could effectively put them out of the running in the race to autonomous vehicle technology. At the very least, it will set them back by several years, while putting Waymo very close to the front of the race.

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