Judge refuses to press pause on Waymo v. Uber

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected Uber’s plea to put Waymo v. Uber on hold, meaning the high-profile trade secrets litigation will proceed on schedule toward its October trial date.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup also refused to modify the order he issued last month that led Uber to fire the self-driving car engineer at the heart of the court battle — Anthony Levandowski.

The two rulings, issued from the bench during a morning hearing in San Francisco’s federal court Tuesday, are the latest blows to Uber and Levandowski in the lawsuit that accuses Uber of stealing and using rival Waymo’s trade secrets to develop its own self-driving car technology. Google spinoff Waymo says its former engineer, Levandowski, stole Waymo documents at Uber’s behest  before leaving to found his own startup, which Uber later acquired.

Alsup last month ordered Uber to use the “full extent” of its authority to force Levandowski to hand over the documents he took, as Levandowski, citing his Fifth Amendment rights, had refused to cooperate. In response, Uber fired Levandowski two weeks later.

On Tuesday, Levandowski’s lawyers argued the judge overstepped in ordering Uber to force Levandowski to choose between his employment and his Fifth Amendment rights. But Alsup didn’t buy it, saying “I’m not taking back a single word” of the order.

“A private employer like Uber has the authority to say to its employees, ‘either cooperate with the internal investigation, or you’re going to be fired or have other adverse action taken against you,'” he said. “A federal district court surely has the right to order…a defendant to do something that it has the authority to do on its own.”

Alsup also rejected Uber’s motion to stay the case. Uber doesn’t want to go to trial in open court — instead the ride-hailing company is trying to push the case into private arbitration. Alsup rejected the company’s bid already, but now Uber is appealing that ruling and wants the judge to press pause while they wait for a decision on the appeal.

Waymo has “a right to get to trial on Oct. 2, and you’re doing everything you can to throw roadblocks in their way,” Alsup told Uber’s lawyers. (He later moved the trial to Oct. 10 to accommodate an unrelated scheduling conflict).

But Alsup also had cautionary words for Waymo. He urged Waymo’s lawyers to streamline their case, which now includes both patent and trade secrets claims.

“I think you’re probably going to lose on all of these patent claims,” Alsup said, “and you’re just burning up time, and you’re wasting time.”

He also encouraged Waymo to pare back the roughly 135 trade secrets the company is seeking relief for.

Nevertheless, Alsup on Tuesday reiterated his opinion that the evidence in this case is “pretty strong” in Waymo’s favor.

Photo: The logo of Uber is seen in front of its headquarters on Aug. 26, 2016 in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

 

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