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Uber Pushes for Arbitration in Intellectual Property Suit with Waymo

Move keeps sensitive information out of public eye.

by on Mar.17, 2017

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has his hands full these days, including the latest legal action.

Uber will try and force arbitration rather a face a trial court over charges that it has stolen intellectual property and proprietary technology from Waymo, Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving car subsidiary, which has taken a prominent role in the development of autonomous vehicles.

Arturo Gonzalez, the prominent San Francisco trial lawyer representing Uber, told a federal judge that he planned to file a petition demanding arbitration of Waymo’s claims of trade secrets theft.

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Arbitration, a legal procedure that side steps open court, allows a third party to review the evidence and decide the case rather than a judge. It’s also less drawn out than a trial and usually less expensive but both sides must agree on the person, often a retired judge, who will serve as the arbitrator in the case.

Using arbitration would allow both parties to keep technical papers out of the public’s reach. However, rulings may not result in the kind of far-reaching protection of its proprietary technology that Waymo appears to be after in the far-reaching lawsuit it filed last month in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

(Waymo escalates battle with Uber. Click Here for the story.)

In its lawsuit, Waymo claimed that one of Uber’s key employees downloaded classified information from Alphabet’s servers before he left to organize his own company aimed at developing autonomous commercial vehicles.

The company, Otto, was later acquired by Uber, which also took possession of the company’s technology.

Last week, Waymo filed a motion, asking that a federal judge prevent Uber from using any of the self-driving technology in any kind of vehicle. The motion said Uber’s technology had actually been pirated from Waymo by a former employee now working for the ride-sharing company.

In both parties’ first appearance before U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco, Arturo Gonzalez, a lawyer for Uber, said an employment agreement signed by Anthony Levandowski when he worked at Waymo has a “very broad arbitration provision” that should be used. Levandowski now works for Uber, according to Reuters.

(Waymo sues Uber for theft of intellectual property. Click Here for the story.)

In its lawsuit, Waymo said that before leaving the company Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential documents about Waymo’s work on Lidar, a key sensor used in autonomous technology.

Uber also appears ready to try and distance itself from Levandowski, who could be required to pay for his own defense if the case goes to arbitration based on the employment contract cited by Gonzalez.

In discussing how Waymo’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop Uber from using the contested technology might be affected by a motion for arbitration, the judge told Gonzalez, “This is not a frivolous motion.”

“You don’t get many cases where there is pretty direct proof that someone downloaded 14,000 documents and then left the next day. This is a serious proposition,” Alsup said.

(Uber hires former U.S. Attorney General to investigate harassment claims. Click Here for the story.)

Waymo lawyer Charles Verhoeven confirmed that Levandowski had signed such an agreement that included non-disclosure provisions.

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