Uber exec accused of stealing Google’s self-driving car secrets takes the Fifth in face of possible ‘criminal action’

Uber executive Anthony Levandowski, accused in a lawsuit of stealing trade secrets from Google’s self-driving car program, is asserting his Fifth Amendment right to avoid incriminating himself, according to a new report.

Levandowski had led Google’s autonomous-vehicle program — spun off earlier this year into its own company, Waymo — and before he quit, he systematically plundered Google’s systems of valuable proprietary data, some of which is allegedly now being used by ride-hailing giant Uber, according to a lawsuit filed Feb. 23 by Waymo against Uber.

Waymo indicated in the suit that it had evidence to show that Levandowski downloaded 14,000 “highly confidential” files just before he resigned last year from Google.

The allegations Waymo made against Levandowski and Uber in the lawsuit remain unproven.

After leaving Google, Levandowski started an autonomous truck company called Otto, which was sold to Uber for $680 million. He was taken on as an executive at Uber, to lead the company’s foray into self-driving vehicles.

On March 30, Northern California U.S. District Court released a transcript in which Levandowski’s lawyers said he was invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid incriminating himself through handing over documents connected to the case, the New York Times reported.

Levandowski’s lawyers said he was “broadly asserting his Fifth Amendment rights because there was ‘potential for criminal action’ in the case,” the newspaper said.

The Fifth Amendment says a person in a criminal case can’t be compelled to be a witness against himself, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it applies to civil cases.

Uber’s lawyers have said they’ve told Levandowski he must release relevant documents, according to the Times’ report.

Levandowski’s position on taking the Fifth could change as his legal team examines the case, one of his lawyers said, the paper reported.

While Waymo’s allegations against Levandowski are laid out in detail in the suit against Uber and in a related blog post, Uber has not issued any significant public response. That’s expected to change April 7 when the ride-sharing firm lays out its defense in court.

“We are very confident that Waymo’s claims against Uber are baseless and that Anthony Levandowski has not used any files from Google in his work with Otto or Uber,” Uber lawyer Angela Padilla said in a statement.

The lawsuit focuses largely on technology called LiDAR, which uses lasers to create a 3-D “view” of an autonomous car’s surroundings, for navigation.


Photo:  A self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan from Google spin-off Waymo (courtesy of Waymo)



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