An initial decision has come down from a federal judge in the case brought by Google's self-driving car division Waymo against competitor Uber, and the judge has denied Uber's efforts to avoid having to go to trial. As Business Insider reports, Judge William Alsup issued an order late Thursday asking the U.S. Attorney to look into whether Uber has broken the law or stolen trade secrets, as Google/Alphabet's lawyers have contended, and he separately ruled that the case could be taken to trial, squashing Uber's hopes that it would be settled in arbitration.
Uber gave a snarky statement in response to the ruling saying, "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 in any forum."
Waymo issued its own statement saying, "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.”
As CNet notes in the ruling, which you can read in full here, Judge Alsup also dismissed Uber's claims that Waymo was "using 'artful' or 'tactical' pleading to evade its obligation for arbitration" by removing the man at the center of this case, Anthony Levandowski, as a defendant. "These accusations are unwarranted," Alsup wrote. "Waymo has honored its obligation to arbitrate against Levandowski by arbitrating its claims (concerning employee poaching) against Levandowksi."
Alsup said that he took "no position" on whether a criminal probe would be warranted, and said that "decision entirely [is] up to the United States Attorney."
The case centers on Levandowski's alleged theft of a trove of blueprints and documents relating to the self-driving car technology known as LiDAR when he was an outgoing employee of Google. A forensic security expert at Google earlier testified that a download of the materials was easily traceable to Levandowski's personal laptop shortly before he left the company to go work for Uber.
Uber paid Levandowski a hefty sum, $680 million, to purchase a startup he created while still working at Google, the self-driving trucking company Otto. They then hired Levandowski to head up their self-driving car division, and Levandowski is separately accused of poaching Google employees to work for Uber.
As of late last month, Levandowski stepped aside as head of the self-driving car division at Uber for reasons that obviously legal. He previously pleaded the Fifth in the case to avoid self-incrimination.
Waymo filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on February 23, and they further moved in March to get an injunction to stop Uber from operating its self-driving cars on public roads altogether. They also filed a motion to ban Levandowski from working on anything self-driving related at Uber. Judge Alsup has yet to rule on either of these motions, but rulings are expected soon.
The case is being watched closely by all of Silicon Valley given the stakes and the high-profile companies involved. Back in March, The Verge spoke to Raj Rajkumar, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (where Uber was developing its self-driving cars), suggested that any ruling against Uber could threaten its ability to attract institutional investment, and he said, "If Waymo prevails after a long suit and a sequence of appeals, the nature of the compensation and fines could be staggering."