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Alphabet wants its lawsuit against Uber to play out publicly

The company is opposing Uber’s motion for private arbitration.

Travis Kalanick Asa Mathat

Alphabet wants its lawsuit against Uber over allegations of stealing trade secrets to play out publicly.

The company filed an opposition request late last night to Uber’s motion for arbitration. If the case went to arbitration, an alternate form for dispute resolution, it would remain in private.

Alphabet self-driving subsidiary Waymo “has not consented to arbitrate this dispute with Uber,” the new filing said, “and Waymo cannot be coerced into arbitration simply because the trade secrets that Uber stole and that Uber is using in Uber’s self-driving cars happen to come from former Waymo employees. That is not the law.”

Alphabet alleges that its proprietary self-driving technology is being used by the ride-hailing company illegally. The Google parent company claims that Uber’s self-driving head at the center of the case, Anthony Levandowski, stole 14,000 files from Alphabet, where he worked on self-driving technology before leaving to launch autonomous truck startup Otto. Uber acquired Otto in August.

Alphabet alleged the files Levandowski stole include designs for Alphabet’s lidar — light detection and ranging — technology. Lidar is a key component to most self-driving systems.

Uber has claimed that its self-driving technology is unique and distinct from what Alphabet has created. It has argued for arbitration on grounds that the lawsuit stems from the actions of Levandowski while he was with Alphabet, and so should be covered by Alphabet’s employee agreement with him. Employee agreements at Alphabet maintain that disputes with the company should be resolved in arbitration.

Alphabet countered that Levandowski is not named in the lawsuit against Uber, and that Uber has no standing to assert the employee agreement.

“Anthony Levandowski is not a defendant in this case. Nor is this an employment dispute between Waymo and Mr. Levandowski,” reads the opposition. “Uber is the defendant in this case, and Uber is responsible for its own misconduct.”

Legal arguments aside, there are questions surrounding what might motivate each company’s position on openness of proceedings. Alphabet’s opposition suggested Uber is seeking to delay proceedings, including a hearing on an injunction Alphabet wants against Uber and to prevent public access to proceedings.

“Uber does not like what the public is learning through this litigation about Uber’s illegal and unfair competition,” the latest filing said.

For Alphabet, which started working on self-driving technology in secret around 2009, there’s an incentive to weaken the image of a high-profile competitor that arrived later in the space.

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