Anthony Levandowski is a star of the self-driving car business. He worked on Google’s autonomous vehicle technology for years, being a key engineer for the project, according to multiple reports. However, in early 2016 he terminated his employment and formed a self-driving truck startup that was acquired by Uber for nearly $700 million a few months later. Levandowski is also accused of having stolen a treasure trove of Google documentation before leaving the company. That’s what triggered Waymo’s lawsuit earlier this year. And it looks like Uber is now threatening the engineer with termination unless he turns over the stolen documents.
It’s unclear whether Uber would actually go ahead with firing Levandowski, considering what he brings to the table. But Reuters reports that a court document that Levandowski’s lawyers filed with the court on Thursday reveals that Uber has at least threatened the engineer. He should comply with the order to return Waymo documents or face termination.
The lawyers asked the judge to modify his order so that Uber won’t be required to fire the engineer should he invoke the Fifth Amendment again and refuse to hand over the documents.
A few days ago, U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued an injunction against Uber, ordering the company to keep Levandowski away from working on Uber’s self-driving car, to prevent him and other employees to see Waymo’s documents and return them to Waymo by May 31st. The judge also recommended a criminal investigation against Uber on the same matter.
Even if Levandowski and Uber do comply with the order, there’s really no way to make sure Uber won’t keep copies of these files. After all, Levandowski downloaded digital versions of the documents, that may have been printed and copied many times over at Uber since he joined the ride-sharing service.
Uber, meanwhile, has not denied that Levandowski took Waymo documents, but the company insists that it hasn’t used any Waymo technology in its cars. The judge did say in the injunction order that few of Waymo’s trade secrets have been traced to Uber technology, adding that Waymo’s claims against its rival have proved meritless.