Uber Threatens to Fire Engineer Over Driverless Car Lawsuit

Uber’s top lawyers have threatened, this week, to fire one of the company’s engineers as part of an order to comply with a lawsuit regarding Google’s self-driving unit Waymo. In this case, Waymo accused Uber of conspiring with a former engineer to gain trade secrets away from Google in order to benefit Uber’s own autonomous vehicle department. This engineer, Anthony Levandowski, formed a start-up called Otto after leaving Google, and then Uber purchased the company for roughly $700 million.

Obviously, any intelligence and design Levandowski had invested in Otto—Google-owned or otherwise—would have come with this purchase.

It is important to note that Mr. Levandowski is not currently being sued for any wrongdoing, necessarily, though he has chosen to stay silent in the matter. As a matter of fact, he exercised his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in March, under advisement from his legal counsel that this would be the best way to avoid potential criminal charges.

In a letter from Uber, the company’s top lawyer orders that Mr. Levandowski—who presently oversees most of Uber’s autonomous vehicle research—should comply with the court’s present investigation into nearly 10 gigabytes of data that Waymo has accused him of stealing.

In the letter, Uber general counsel Salle Yoo says: “While we have respected your personal liberties, it is our view that the court’s order requires us to make these demands of you. We insist that you do everything in your power to assist us in complying with the order.”

Furthermore, Ms. Yoo goes on to say, “If you comply with these requirements, your employment at Uber will continue on an at-will basis. We continue to believe that no Waymo trade secrets have ever been used in the development of our self-driving technology, and we remain confident that we will prove that fact in due course.”

For the time, at least, press officers from both Uber and Waymo are declining to comment on the letter or details of this case. Similarly, most legal representatives for Mr. Levandowski are note responding to requests for comment (at least, as of late Thursday).

 

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