Uber ordered to turn over allegedly stolen files

Uber ordered to turn over allegedly stolen files
© Greg Nash

A federal judge on Monday ordered Uber to turn over thousands of files that were allegedly stolen from Google's self-driving car subsidiary, Waymo.

Waymo alleges that a former employee, Anthony Levandowski, stole about 14,000 documents — including trade secrets — before leaving to start a self-driving truck company called Otto. Uber later acquired Otto, gaining access to the files.

Uber has until May 31 to return the files to Waymo, U.S. District Judge William Alsup ordered.

The documents allegedly detail advancements Waymo had made with in lidar — a radar system that most self-driving car companies to employ help their cars pilot themselves.

Waymo contends that with the files, Uber was able to unfairly and illegally advance its own lidar technology without having to spend resources.

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The judge's order also calls for Uber to bar Levandowski from working on lidar and from communicating with anyone at the company on the technology. Uber has already voluntarily recused Levandowski from his work on lidar.

Uber must also comprehensively account for every person that has seen or heard any part of the files, including employees of Stroz Friedberg, the independent firm that Uber hired to conduct due diligence.

“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,” Waymo said in a statement.

“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,” the company continued, referring to part of the order that allows Waymo lawyers to inspect Uber's work involving lidar.

Alsup also ordered a U.S. attorney to investigate Uber for “possible theft of trade secrets.” 

"We are pleased with the court's ruling that Uber can continue building and utilizing all of its self-driving technology, including our innovation around LiDAR,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. 

Waymo had also sought for the order to sanction Uber and shut down its Advanced Technology Group — the part of the company that includes Levandowski's firm.

Alsup said Waymo’s assertion that 121 trade secrets were stolen from it was “overreached in attempting to claim ownership over general principles and approaches in the field," and he called some of Waymo’s patent infringement accusations “meritless.”

Uber has faced a series of public relations blows in the last year, including outcry over its user data collection policies and criticism after a former employee wrote a blog post detailing the company's alleged sexist treatment of women.