The autonomous vehicle industry might be in for a shakeup soon.
United States District Judge William Alsup issued an order Thursday in San Francisco asking federal prosecutors to investigate the claims made by Waymo in an intellectual property lawsuit against Uber, Bloomberg reports. In the order, Alsup also said he hasn’t yet taken a position as to whether criminal charges should be brought against Uber.
The news comes less than a month after Anthony Levandowski, the Uber engineer and former Google employee at the heart of Waymo’s suit, stepped down from his position as the head of the company’s self-driving technology division. He and CEO Travis Kalanick reportedly decided he shouldn’t lead that team while the case is ongoing.
In the complaint filed in February, Waymo accused Levandowski of downloading 14,000 files to a memory card while he was heading its driverless car project. Google began investigating him after he allegedly used the files as the basis for Otto, the autonomous truck company he founded, which was purchased by Uber for $700 million just one month after it opened.
Levandowki has invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and is refusing to testify in the lawsuit, though during a hearing on May 3, Alsup reportedly said the evidence strongly supports the accusations against him. Though he did add Waymo hadn’t provided a “smoking gun” to prove Uber was complicit.
Jim Pooley, a Silicon Valley intellectual property lawyer, told Bloomberg that Alsup’s decision to ask prosecutors to confer on the case implies that he thinks a crime might have been committed. He also said Uber’s lawyers now have a much harder task ahead of them.
“The potential for an actual criminal proceeding makes it that much more difficult to control, or affect the ultimate outcome of the dispute,” Pool said.
In a separate, sealed order issued Thursday, Alsup partly granted Waymo’s request for a preliminary injunction to suspend Uber’s self-driving program. He said he will make the decision public after consulting both parties about which sensitive information needs to be redacted.
Thumbnail photo via Waymo