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Uber won’t be forced to stop developing self-driving cars during its lawsuit with Alphabet

In a move that formalizes Anthony Levandowski’s recusal, a judge granted Alphabet a partial injunction in its case against Uber.

Travis Kalanick Asa Mathat

A judge in Alphabet’s case against Uber has determined that the ride-hail company can continue operating its autonomous efforts as is so long as Anthony Levandowski, the executive at the center of the suit, is barred from any and all work related to the radar in question.

This simply formalizes Levandowski’s decision to voluntarily recuse himself from all work on lidar — the specific type of radar Alphabet claims he stole the designs for — ahead of the injunction hearing. However, Uber will now face legal ramifications if Levandowski violates this court order.

The court will appoint a “special master” to review and monitor communications and operations to ensure Levandowski is truly removed from all lidar work.

The court order reads:

The bottom line is the evidence indicates that Uber hired Levandowski even though it knew or should have known that he possessed over 14,000 confidential Waymo files likely containing Waymo’s intellectual property; that at least some information from those files, if not the files themselves, has seeped into Uber’s own LiDAR development efforts.

As part of its bid for an injunction, Alphabet asked that the court order Uber to stop using any and all technology that included allegedly stolen trade secrets in developing its driverless cars. Uber made clear that none of its semi-autonomous cars on the road today use its in-house radars, so regardless of what the judge’s decision ended up being, it’s not likely the company would have had to stop operating the cars on the road.

The judge also said that Alphabet “overreached” when it asked for protection of 121 of what it believed qualified as trade secrets.

“General approaches dictated by well-known principles of physics, however, are not ‘secret,’ since they consist essentially of general engineering principles that are simply part of the intellectual equipment of technical employees,” Judge William Alsup wrote.

As part of this partial injunction, Uber must account for any and all conversations — written or oral — that Levandowski had with any company employee discussing or related to the radar Alphabet claims he stole.

Importantly, Alphabet’s legal counsel and an expert will also be able to inspect any and all of Uber’s current work with this specific type of lidar radar, regardless of whether that results in a prototype. This is part of what is called “expedited discovery,” which the judge granted Alphabet so that the company could ask for additional preliminary relief or other additions to the injunction.

Alphabet has also been granted depositions of seven more Uber employees.

Alphabet is suing Uber for stealing proprietary information, claiming Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files before leaving Alphabet to start a new autonomous company that the ride-hail company eventually acquired.

“Competition should be fueled by innovation in the labs and on the roads, not through unlawful actions,” a Waymo spokesperson said. “We welcome the order to prohibit Uber’s use of stolen documents containing trade secrets developed by Waymo through years of research, and to formally bar Mr Levandowski from working on the technology. The court has also granted Waymo expedited discovery and we will use this to further protect our work and hold Uber fully responsible for its misconduct.”

In a statement, Uber said:

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling that Uber can continue building and utilizing all of its self-driving technology, including our innovation around LiDAR. We look forward to moving toward trial and continuing to demonstrate that our technology has been built independently from the ground up.”

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