The stakes are getting higher in a trade secrets case that pits two of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies against each other in a battle over the future of self-driving cars.
A judge asked federal prosecutors Thursday to investigate whether Uber Technologies and one of its executives colluded to steal key technology from Google’s self-driving car project, now known as Waymo, before the executive joined Uber last year.
The possibility of an investigation adds to mounting issues facing Uber and its embattled chief executive, Travis Kalanick.
The ride-hailing giant, which is valued by private investors at nearly $70 billion, is also facing a criminal probe by the Justice Department over the company’s use of software that was designed to evade authorities in cities where Uber was not yet legal.
That criminal investigation is ongoing, according to people familiar with the matter.
“It is very rare for a judge to refer a matter over to the U.S. attorney and signals the judge’s displeasure with Uber in the trade secrets civil lawsuit,” said Carl Tobias Williams, chair in law at the University of Richmond School of Law. It also compounds Uber’s other legal problems, he said in an interview Friday.
In referring the case to the U.S. attorney’s office, the court took “no position on whether prosecution is or is not warranted, a decision entirely up to the United States Attorney,” U.S. District Judge William Alsup wrote.
In addition, Alsup denied Uber’s request to move the case to arbitration. That means the high-profile case is expected to go to public trial later this year. Waymo filed the lawsuit in February.
Alsup also temporarily blocked part of Uber’s self-driving program using technology that Waymo claims to be stolen, but it was unclear how much of the program would be suspended because documents of the partial injunction were sealed.
Uber did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Waymo commented on the decision to go to trial in an emailed statement Thursday: “This was a desperate bid by Uber to avoid the court’s jurisdiction. We welcome the court’s decision today, and we look forward to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct.”
Uber has long been celebrated in Silicon Valley for its hard-charging culture — and for its strategy of moving into cities before getting permission from authorities. Within the tech world, Uber’s success was emblematic of the promise of a new wave of “on-demand” start-ups that would use smartphone-based technology to transform entrenched businesses in the physical world.
Read more of the original article at The Washington Post.