In an unexpected twist on Thursday evening, the federal judge presiding over Waymo's bitter lawsuit against Uber referred the case to the United States attorney to investigate allegations that the ride-hail giant stole trade secrets from the Google driverless auto spinoff.
Judge William Alsup, who is presiding over the civil lawsuit, referred the case to the U.S. Attorney tonight - a move that could result in a criminal investigation into Levandowski's behavior.
According to Waymo, the Uber executive stole thousands of documents full of sensitive autonomous driving secrets from the company when he was still its employee, a lot of which has to do with LIDAR technology.
In a separate, sealed order issued Thursday, Alsup partly granted Waymo's request for a preliminary injunction to suspend Uber's self-driving program.
"The court takes no position on whether a prosecution is or is not warranted, a decision entirely up to the United States attorney", Alsup wrote in his order. Levandowski is now the head of Uber's self-driving vehicle.
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Uber has vehemently denied using Waymo's ideas, maintaining that its Lidar is radically different. From lawsuits to allegations of sexual harassment to a federal investigation into claims that it has used a fake version of its app to thwart authorities, Uber has had a rough year. But Judge Alsup read them as implicit accusations - and found them to be "unwarranted".
The suit accuses former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski of stealing technology when he left the company to create a start-up called Otto, which was also building self-driving cars.
A US judge on Thursday called for an investigation into allegations of trade secret theft that were raised in a court battle between Silicon Valley giants Uber and Alphabet over their rival self-driving vehicle programs.
Uber didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Uber has argued that Waymo's lawsuit was just a tactic to stall a competitor in the race for the billions of dollars attached to the coming autonomous vehicle revolution. This is close to a worst-case scenario for Uber as it desperately tried to avoid the case from going into public. "We don't have any basis for disputing that", Uber's attorney Arturo Gonzalez said in court last week, adding that "there's no evidence" Levandowski consulted the Waymo files once he began working at Uber. Somewhat ironically, Levandoswki isn't named as a defendant in Waymo's lawsuit against Uber. The company said it welcomed the court's decision and looked forward "to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct".
The denied bid for arbitration and investigation are the latest setbacks for Uber, whose public image has taken a beating in 2017.