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Waymo v. Uber Lawsuit Referred to Criminal Investigators by Federal Judge

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

If this story starts to sound like something you've heard before, don't worry. It gets better, or worse, depending on how you see it.

Google's self-driving car division, Waymo, sued Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets for its own self-driving cars. Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer, downloaded 14,000 files from the company before he started his own and promptly sold the technology to Uber for $680 million.

The case is pending in federal court, where the judge has just dropped a bombshell. He denied Uber's request to move the case into arbitration, and instead referred it to the U.S. Attorney's Office for criminal investigation.

"Strong Evidence"

"The Court takes no position on whether a prosecution is or is not warranted, a decision entirely up to the United States Attorney," Judge William Alsup wrote in his order.

The judge offered few details on his decision, but has said in previous hearings that there was "strong evidence" that Levandowski took the technology. Uber doesn't deny Levandowski downloaded the files, and Waymo is pursuing him individually in separate arbitration proceedings.

But an Uber spokesperson said Waymo should have had to go through arbitration against the company, too. In any case, Uber says it developed its own self-driving technology.

"We remain confident in our case and welcome the chance to talk about our independently developed technology in any forum," ArsTechnica reported.

Tech Town Suits

While the Uber case is unique in the criminal ramifications, the case sounds a lot like another trade-secrets drama playing in the Silicon Valley. In that case, ZeniMax Media recently won a $500 million verdict against Facebook's Oculus.

Facebook purchased Oculus for its virtual reality technology, only to get sued later over allegations that John Carmack, who was developing a VR headset while he was with ZeniMax, took the technology and gave it to Oculus. Intent on protecting its intellectual property into the future, ZeniMax says the fight is not over.

Is this -- stealing and and then selling technology -- starting to sound like a re-run or a tired movie plot? Or is the reality that entrepreneurs take technology from each other like start-ups take investor money?

Stay tuned for the next act in tech town.

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