Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber, its competitor in the automated vehicle business, is going to trial. Judge William Alsup ruled that Uber could not force the lawsuit over theft of trade secrets into private arbitration.
Waymo, the self-driving car subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, accused Anthony Levandowski, one of its former engineers, of stealing thousands of confidential documents from Waymo before founding his own self-driving truck startup and eventually going to lead Uber’s self-driving team. Uber argued unsuccessfully that Waymo’s claims belonged in an arbitration proceeding because of a clause in Levandowski’s employment contract that said disputes between Waymo and Levandowski should be settled in arbitration.
“Defendants have repeatedly accused Waymo of using ‘artful’ or ‘tactical’ pleading to evade its arbitration obligations by omitting Levandowski as a defendant,” Judge Alsup wrote in the decision. “These accusations are unwarranted.”
Waymo has pursued a separate arbitration against Levandowski and his co-founder Lior Ron over employee poaching. The company claims Levandowski and Ron, also a former Googler, used confidential salary information to poach Google employees to their self-driving truck startup, Otto. Uber acquired Otto in August 2016 in a deal worth roughly $680 million.
“Waymo has honored its obligation to arbitrate against Levandowski by arbitrating its claims (concerning employee poaching) 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. Even though he is not a defendant here, moreover, 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,” Alsup wrote.
The decision hints that Alsup’s pending decision on a preliminary injunction might not be favorable to Uber. Waymo asked for the injunction to prevent Uber from using its technology while the case proceeds, and Alsup’s comments in the arbitration ruling suggest he’s not too keen on Uber’s behavior.
“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,” a Waymo spokesperson said in a statement. TechCrunch reached out to Uber for comment on the ruling and will update when the company responds.
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