A federal judge ruled Thursday that Waymo's driverless-car trade secrets lawsuit against Uber Technologies Inc. will stay in open court, rejecting the ride-hailing giant's request to push it into closed-door arbitration.
Uber is being sued by Waymo, the business unit developing self-driving vehicles at Google's parent company Alphabet, over allegations of technology theft.
Waymo said it never consented to arbitrate the dispute with Uber and contended it couldn't be coerced into an informal resolution process just because the trade secrets it's fighting to protect happen to have come from former Waymo employees.
An initial decision has come down from a federal judge in the case brought by Google's self-driving auto division Waymo against competitor Uber, and the judge has denied Uber's efforts to avoid having to go to trial. In the order, Alsup also said he hasn't yet taken a position as to whether criminal charges should be brought against Uber. Uber began testing autonomous technology seven years later.
Levandowski left Waymo without giving notice and started up a new company called Otto that would be focused on autonomous trucks.
Also Thursday, Alsup issued a third order on Waymo's sealed motion for provisional relief. That means the case will go to court, but the judge also recommended that the case go to federal prosecutors to investigate whether Uber is guilty of theft.
The judge highlighted that in this case, Waymo was not bound by arbitration.
Uber didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but Waymo predictably applauded the decision. In Uber's version of the story, it happened to hire a highly sought-after engineer who then stole documents from Waymo without Uber's knowledge. "These accusations are unwarranted", Alsup wrote.
California-based ride-sharing service Uber acquired commercial transport-focused tech startup Otto late a year ago as the company pressed ahead with its pursuit of self-driving technology.
Levandowski has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions about the case.
Waymo alleges that Uber and Mr Levandowski conspired to create the self-driving auto start-up Otto so that Uber could appear to have legitimately acquired the same technology as Waymo was using.
In a statement, Waymo said Uber's bid to have the civil case heard in private by an arbitrator, not a jury, was a "desperate" attempt to avoid the court's jurisdiction.
Waymo is represented by Charles Verhoeven with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan; Uber by Arturo Gonzalez with Morrison & Foerster, both in San Francisco.
An Uber representative said in a statement it was "unfortunate that Waymo will be permitted to avoid abiding by the arbitration promise it requires its employees to make". Waymo accuses Uber and Levandowski of being partners in crime and stealing the files after the ride-sharing company purchased the start-up for $680 million.