In a pileup of bad news for Uber, a federal judge Thursday ruled that it must face a civil trial on accusations of filching driverless vehicle technology from Google spinoff Waymo, and asked federal prosecutors to consider launching a criminal investigation.
Judge William Alsup in San Francisco made the referral in an order posted Thursday night.
Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving auto division, originally filed a lawsuit against Uber in February, accusing the latter company of stealing trade secrets related to autonomous vehicle systems.
Judge William Alsup's referral of the case to the USA attorney came amid a flurry of orders in the contentious lawsuit between two Silicon Valley giants.
Meanwhile, the judge referred the Waymo-Uber case for possible criminal prosecution, which would raise the stakes considerably for Uber. The judge added that it's not the Court's decision to determine whether prosecution is warranted or not, it's entirely up to the U.S. Attorney.
Uber has been aggressively pursuing self-driving vehicle technology over the past two years as it seeks to remove the most expensive part of its business model, the driver. Alsup also partially granted Waymo a bid for an injunction, albeit temporarily under seal, so its scope and details could not immediately be learned.
And though only parties to an arbitration agreement can invoke arbitration, nonparty Uber said it is entitled to invoke it because Waymo's allegations are connected to those contracts.
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The judge also determined the lawsuit Google filed against Uber would head to trial, dealing a blow to Uber's strategy, The Wall Street Journal reported.
"These accusations are unwarranted", Alsup wrote in his ruling. In a statement the company said "we remain confident in our case and welcome the chance to talk about our independently developed technology". Uber claimed its own technology was significantly different. This would have taken the spotlight away from Uber and focus it on Levandowski and Waymo.
The legal case brought by Alphabet's Waymo against Uber for allegedly stealing self-driving auto secrets is set to go to trial.
On Thursday, Alsup said Levandowski's stonewalling has "obstructed" the case.
In a statement responding to a detailed email request for comment, an Uber spokesperson said, "It is unfortunate that Waymo will be permitted to avoid abiding by the arbitration promise it requires its employees to make".
Waymo's lawyers provided two key pieces of evidence to back up its claim: one showing that Levandowski was granted five million Uber shares - now worth over $250m - on the day he left Waymo, January 28, 2016, rather than the day his company, Otto, was acquired. In court last week, Uber's lawyer Gonzalez said "we'll produce our CEO for deposition".
It's the latest in a series of setbacks for the embattled ride-hailing company. Alsup ruled that Waymo has taken Levandowski to arbitration, and a separate lawsuit was the only course available to sue Uber.