Uber Renews Push for Arbitration in Waymo Trade-Secrets Case

Updated on
  • Appeal of ruling keeping case in court seen as ‘long shot’
  • Judge said Uber and Waymo have no arbitration agreement

Uber's Driverless Car Project at Risk in Court Case

Uber Technologies Inc. renewed a bid to move its driverless-car trade-secrets fight with Waymo into closed-door arbitration.

The ride-hailing company on Thursday filed notice that it will appeal a May 11 ruling denying its request to move the conflict out of public court. A legal expert said an appeal is unlikely to succeed and wouldn’t delay a trial set for October that may tip the scales in the race to market autonomous cars that both companies believe will be worth billions of dollars a year.

“It’s a long shot for Uber," said Charlotte Garden, an associate law professor at Seattle University. The trial judge probably won’t pause the case to wait for an appeals court ruling, she said.

The fight over whether the case should be sent to a private arbitrator focuses on Anthony Levandowski, the former Waymo engineer who led Uber’s autonomous vehicle program until he was demoted last month. Waymo claims Levandowski downloaded thousands of confidential files before he left the company to launch his own self-driving startup, Otto, that was acquired by Uber for $680 million.

“In full view of the court, Waymo has presented strong evidence that Uber has stolen our trade secrets and used our confidential information,” a Waymo spokesman said Thursday. “Uber’s appeal is a blatant attempt to hide their misconduct from the public.”

While Levandowski isn’t a defendant in the suit, Uber says the dispute doesn’t belong in court because the engineer’s contract with Waymo contained a broad provision to resolve any disputes in arbitration. To bolster its case, Uber pointed to two arbitration proceedings Waymo initiated against Levandowski over his alleged poaching of employees.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco rejected the argument, saying Uber can’t enforce arbitration agreements it didn’t sign.

Waymo’s decision to file its trade-secrets case against Uber in court “was not only reasonable but also the only course available," because Waymo has no arbitration agreement with Uber, Alsup wrote.

In arbitration, the companies would able to choose an intellectual-property expert to referee their dispute. Arbitrators, who are usually lawyers or retired judges, are required to keep proceedings confidential, including final outcomes, but parties can speak publicly about awards unless they’ve agreed to keep quiet, according to Garden.

She said arbitration would benefit Uber primarily by keeping the case out of the public spotlight and also by limiting the scope of information sharing, or discovery.

The case is Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies Inc., 17-00939, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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