The battle between Uber and Alphabet’s Waymo subsidiary has been recommended for investigation by federal prosecutors.
The judge presiding over the case, William Alsup, also denied Uber’s request for arbitration, meaning the case will be debated in a public court.
The fight between the two companies began when Google’s parent company Alphabet launched legal action against Uber for allegedly stealing its self-driving car technology back in February. The case centres on the fact that a former employee at Waymo, the autonomous driving unit at the tech conglomerate, Anthony Levandowski, left Waymo to work for Otto, a self-driving truck startup.
A few months later, Otto was acquired by Uber, allegedly because Levandowski lured the company into the deal.. As a result, Levandowski and therefore Uber has been accused of stealing confidential information on Waymo’s Lidar sensor technology, which uses light pulses reflected off objects to gauge their position on or near the road, to push its own autonomous tech.
“Uber’s Lidar technology is actually Waymo’s Lidar technology,” said Waymo’s complaint.
According to the lawsuit, Levandowski allegedly downloaded confidential files about Waymo’s tech and stored them on an external hard drive. Waymo has also said other former employees stole trade secrets before moving on to work for Otto and Uber.
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A few weeks before the case went to trial, Levandowski, in his role as Uber’s head of self-driving technologies, recused himself over working on anything self-driving based at the startup.
According to an email obtained by Business Insider, Levandowski said the decision was made by himself along with Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick.
The US attorney has to accept the case for it to be investigated by federal prosecutors. If it does, and Uber is found guilty, the startup could face criminal prosecution.
A spokesperson for Waymo responded favourably to judge Alsup’s decision, particularly the ruling that the case would be heard in a public court.
“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,” said the spokesperson.
This is the latest in a long string of difficulties that Uber has faced this year. The startup is already being investigated by the US government, according to Recode. The justice department has opened an investigation into reports that Uber was using a special tool to evade regulators and law enforcement officials around the country, something known as “greyballing”.
As well, over in Europe, the European Court of Justice (ECJ)’s advocate general has said the startup should be known and regulated as a transportation company, meaning it should be licenced like taxis.
The advocate general, Maciej Szpunar, said in a statement:
“The Uber electronic platform, whilst innovative, falls within the field of transport. Uber can thus be required to obtain the necessary licenses and authorisations under national law.”
A spokesperson for Uber said this was the situation for the company in Europe already. “It will, however, undermine the much-needed reform of outdated laws which prevent millions of Europeans from accessing a reliable ride at the tap of a button,” they said.
The newly-dubbed transportation company recently shut down its operation in Denmark after the introduction of new taxi laws.