Uber Technologies' robocar project director wants his company to be spared from having to turn over certain documents in Waymo's trade-secrets theft suit, saying he's vulnerable to criminal prosecution.
Engineer Anthony Levandowski, who's asserting his constitutional right against self-incrimination, asked a San Francisco federal judge Thursday to scale back an order requiring the ride-hailing giant to disclose thousands of records relating to driverless technology.
Waymo has argued that Uber is stonewalling on its obligation to turn over files and documents that the Alphabet unit says were stolen by Levandowski when he left Waymo last year and launched his self-driving startup Otto, which was acquired by Uber for $680 million.
US District Judge William Alsup has to weigh Levandowski's right to protect himself from possible criminal prosecution against Waymo's contention that it will suffer greatly if Uber's use of its proprietary information isn't halted promptly.
When Levandowski's lawyer said at a hearing Thursday that Waymo is trying to get a hold of records about Uber's acquisition of Otto that are protected by a confidentiality pact, the judge questioned the need for such an agreement.
"At the time this acquisition was being negotiated, your client and Uber were fearful that litigation like this would arise? But why?" Alsup said. "It was a legitimate deal, why would they have anything to fear?"
The attorney, Ismail Ramsey, told the judge the agreement between Otto and Uber to share information privately was meant to safeguard the companies from possible litigation around "various issues that arise when an employee moves from one company to another."
The judge directed Ramsey to provide him after the hearing with a description of the documents Levandowski doesn't want revealed, and to give a redacted version to Waymo.
Waymo claims there's proof that Uber knew, before it acquired Otto, that Levandowski stole the documents. Levandowski and Uber can't hide behind the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Waymo said in a court filing.
Levandowski improperly "asks this court to absolve Otto and Uber of the obligations to produce relevant information because they agreed to try to use the privilege as a shield with respect to incriminating information," according to the filing.
At a hearing Wednesday, Waymo had asked Alsup to conclude Uber was using 14,000 files allegedly downloaded by Levandowski when he left Alphabet to develop the ride-hailing company's driverless car program.
The judge stopped short of issuing an order that would block Uber's use of the disputed technology. Instead, Uber agreed to dig deeper into its computer servers to look for files that the ride-hailing company's lawyer said haven't been found. Uber also agreed to interview employees to help find the files.
The case is Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies Inc., 17-00939, US District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
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