A California judge ruled against Uber’s motion for the suit over stolen technology to be seen by a private arbitrator and not a public jury.
In February, Waymo, the self-driving car company affiliated with Google, sued Uber, alleging that “a key engineer had stolen trade secrets from Waymo and brought them to Uber.” Uber was hoping for the case to be handled in arbitration in a private forum, however a judge declined the motion.
Before we go on: A refresher on all the names and companies involved.
Waymo is a company developing self-driving cars that is owned by Alphabet, which is also the parent company of Google. As such, the work Waymo does and the cars they test are often referred to as “the Google car.” Uber, the well-known ride-sharing app, bought a start-up called Otto to help develop their own autonomous vehicle technology. The engineer accused of misconduct in the suit – Anthony Levandowski – worked for Waymo before leaving to found Otto and was allegedly already communicating with Uber before he left Waymo / Alphabet.
Judge William Alsup ruled that a jury should decide the merits of the case and partially granted an injunction against Uber. He also ordered the case to be investigated by a U.S. attorney for “possible left of trade secrets” however he did not say whether prosecution was called for. Further details of his opinion are sealed on account of confidential information.
Waymo issued a statement, as reported by CNBC, 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.
Uber countered with:
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 any forum.
Technology is a crucial component to developing self-driving cars, and Waymo has far and away the best technology, according to a new ranking of the self-driving car race from Navigant Research. The case could create a major delay for Uber, which is already struggling to keep up with competitors. While Lewandoski said he would “recuse himself from work related to the disputed technology,” CNBC reports that an Uber engineer testified that Levandowski communicates with his replacement on a day-to-day basis.
No matter the outcome of the trial, it looks unlikely that Uber can make up this kind of lost ground, so it’s no surprise they’re already turning their attention to flying cars.