Judge refers theft allegations against Uber to US Attorney

Still, Waymo claims that its allegedly stolen proprietary information did find its way into Uber's plans for its LiDAR system, a technology that uses rapid pulses of laser light to help self-driving cars measure distance and navigate the world around them.

The case comes at a time when the self-driving auto business is fiercely competitive - and any setback could impact companies' abilities to test their cars on the road and beat rivals to market.

DETROIT (AP) — A federal judge has referred trade secret theft allegations made against Uber by Google's autonomous auto unit to the U.S. Attorney's office for investigation.

Waymo's lawyers provided two key pieces of evidence to back up its claim: one showing that Levandowski was granted five million Uber shares - now worth over $250m - on the day he left Waymo, January 28, 2016, rather than the day his company, Otto, was acquired. The judge handling the case has already referred the lawsuit to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which could then result in a criminal investigation. It also compounds Uber's other legal problems, he said in an interview Friday. The case will go to trial and the evidence will be mostly public, which Uber desperately tried to avoid. Though he did add Waymo hadn't provided a "smoking gun" to prove Uber was complicit.

Asked whether Waymo has communicated with the Justice Department about the prospect of or existence of a criminal investigation, a spokesman declined to comment. "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", the judge wrote in court documents.

"We look forward to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct", Waymo said in a statement. Within the tech world, Uber's success was emblematic of the promise of a new wave of "on-demand" start-ups that would use smartphone-based technology to transform entrenched businesses in the physical world. A case synopsis said the judge granted part of Waymo's request but also denied part. Waymo had sought to compel the return of its documents and to bar Uber from using lidar technology it said was stolen.

The judge's order comes two weeks after Levandowski stepped down from his post overseeing self-driving vehicle technology to a lesser role on the team, saying he and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick decided he shouldn't be involved with the laser technology at issue in the lawsuit.

Waymo was asking Alsup to both grant an injunction requiring Uber to stop testing its self-driving cars as well as remove Levandowski from all autonomous vehicle projects at Uber. Uber began testing autonomous technology seven years later.

Do you think Uber is a ride-hailing or transport company? Losing the race to develop the technology first would make Uber vulnerable to competitors and potentially decimate its business. It threatens to trigger a second USA government investigation of a company that has pushed the legal boundaries through most of its eight-year history.

Uber has seen a string of high-profile executive departures following a controversy over sexual harassment and discrimination.

Uber is now being investigated for allegedly using phony software to throw off city officials trying to determine if Uber is abiding by local regulations in two cities.

  • Latoya Cobb