A legal case between Uber and Waymo over trade secrets theft has heated up, as a federal judge has issued a partial injunction against Uber. The order, filed Monday, stops Uber from using any information from files stolen from Waymo, and orders Uber to return any stolen documents to Waymo.
“The bottom line is the evidence indicates that Uber hired Levandowski even though it knew or should have known that he possessed over 14,000 confidential Waymo files likely containing Waymo’s intellectual property,” Judge William Alsup said in remarks explaining the injunction. “That at least some information from those files, if not the files themselves, has seeped into Uber’s own LiDAR development efforts; and that at least some of said information likely qualifies for trade secret protection. This is sufficient for Waymo to show serious questions going to the merits of its case.”
The case revolves around Anthony Levandowski, a former star engineer at Google’s self-driving car program, Waymo. He left to go work for Uber, but not before downloading several gigabytes of technical documents from Google’s system, including the design for the LiDAR sensor that is key to a successful self-driving car.
Waymo has been suing Uber to prevent it from using the stolen technology, and so far things are going in Waymo’s favor. Uber tried to make the case go to arbitration rather than trial, which has been denied by the judge. Worse, Levandowski invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid turning over the documents to the judge, but Uber has been told that it must use its leverage as a private employer (i.e. the threat of termination) to get Levandowski to surrender the documents.
“We welcome the order to prohibit Uber’s use of stolen documents containing trade secrets developed by Waymo through years of research, and to formally bar Mr Levandowski from working on the technology,” a Waymo spokesperson said. “The court has also granted Waymo expedited discovery and we will use this to further protect our work and hold Uber fully responsible for its misconduct.”
Uber hasn’t been pulling punches in public commentary on the case. In comments made back in April, an Uber spokesperson described Waymo’s case as a “misfire” with “no evidence.” They also said that “Waymo doesn’t meet the high bar for an injunction, which would stifle our independent innovation—probably Waymo’s goal in the first place.” Uber has not yet commented on today’s injunction.