Judge refers theft allegations against Uber to US Attorney


Alsup wrote in his recommendation that he "takes no position on whether a prosecution is or is not warranted, a decision entirely up to the United States Attorney".

The full details of Alsup's thoughts on the referral are unknown, as the relevant orders are sealed. Before he departs, Google/Waymo claim that Levandowski illegally made off with "9.7 GB of Waymo's highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation".

Waymo, Google's autonomous vehicle company, sued Uber earlier this year claiming that its former self-driving auto expert - Anthony Levandowski - had stolen 14,000 files related to Google's proprietary LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology before starting a company, Otto, which Uber bought last summer for $670 million US. Otto was later acquired by Uber. Waymo also claimed that Uber infringed certain Waymo-owned patents. Over the next several months, in quick succession, Levandowski resigned from Waymo, formed a self-driving truck company known as Otto Trucking, and worked with Uber to prepare for Otto's acquisition. That means the high-profile case is expected to go to public trial later this year.

Jim Pooley, a Silicon Valley intellectual property lawyer, told Bloomberg that Alsup's decision to ask prosecutors to confer on the case implies that he thinks a crime might have been committed.

An initial decision has come down from a federal judge in the case brought by Google's self-driving vehicle division Waymo against competitor Uber, and the judge has denied Uber's efforts to avoid having to go to trial.

Uber's argument hinged on a clause in the contract between Levandowski and the company, which said that any future cases between Uber and the engineer's former employer should be settled in arbitration. In his arbitration ruling, however, the judge noted the record contained "ample evidence" that Levandowski breached his duty of loyalty to Waymo. Before he quit, Levandowski led a team of Waymo engineers who developed LiDAR technology for its self-driving auto project, according to court documents. The employment agreements Waymo signed with Levandowski require arbitration of all disputes "with anyone" that arise out of, relate to, or result from Levandowski's employment, it added. "Defendants have repeatedly accused Waymo of using "artful" or "tactical" pleading to evade its arbitration obligations by omitting Levandowski as a defendant", Alsup said.

"We look forward to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct", Waymo said in a statement.

Uber declined to comment, citing the seal on some of the documents.

There's one more big decision Alsup has to make, that could be coming as soon as tomorrow.

California-based ride-sharing service Uber acquired commercial transport-focused tech startup Otto late previous year as the company pressed ahead with its pursuit of self-driving technology.