US judge temporarily halts parts of Uber driverless car programme, refers Waymo-brought case to prosecutors

12 May 2017

12 May 2017

The judge in the legal battle in the trade secrets-stealing case brought by Google’s Waymo against Uber has issued a partial injunction against parts of Uber’s programme, according to the Wall Street Journal. It has also taken the abnormal act of referring the evidence against Uber to criminal prosecutors, raising the serious potential consequences of the case to the next level.

In the order issued on Thursday, judge Willian Alsup asked for Waymo’s evidence to be delivered to the US attorney in order ′for investigation of possible theft of trade secrets based on the evidentiary record supplied thus far.’

He stressed, however: ′The court takes no position on whether a prosecution is or is not warranted, a decision entirely up to the US attorney.’

The exact details regarding Waymo’s request for a preliminary injunction against Uber – first step down what could have highly damaging consequences for its autonomous programme – remained closed to the public, while it is considered whether sections of the order should be redacted to protect sensitive information it may contain.

As Uber fights to defend itself against the claims, Anthony Levandowski, who is accused for stealing trade secrets from Waymo before being employed by Uber, stepped down from parts of his management responsibilities covering areas sensitive to the case.

Levandowski was one of the core early members of Waymo-parent Alphabet’s self-driving programme, leaving the company in January 2016 to found his own company, which was immediately snapped up by Uber. Just before leaving Alphabet, Levandowski downloaded 14,000 highly sensitive documents core to Waymo’s self-driving programme, now widely regarded to be the most reliable autonomous system in the world.

Uber’s system is a key competitor, and suspiciously made its progress through development extremely quickly, launching before that of Waymo.

Photograph courtesy of istock