US judge rejects Uber's bid take Waymo case to arbitration

A US judge yesterday turned down Uber's bid to send its high-profile trade secret dispute with Alphabet's self-driving unit Waymo for arbitration.

US district judge William Alsup in San Francisco also partially granted Waymo's bid for an injunction against Uber over its self-driving car programme. But, Alsup filed his injunction opinion temporarily under seal, meaning its scope and details could not be immediately revealed.

The dispute between the two tech companies would likely impact the nascent field of autonomous technology according to commentators. They say outcome of the legal battle could determine the future of Uber's self-driving car programme.

The case rested on Waymo's allegations that former Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski had stolen 14,000 confidential files prior to leaving the company.

Levandowski later co-founded self-driving truck start-up Otto, which was acquired months later by Uber.

In a separate order, Alsup referred the case to the US Department of Justice for investigation of possible trade secret theft. Alsup did not also take a position on whether a criminal prosecution was warranted.

According to Waymo, the information from its files was used in Uber's Lidar system, a key sensor technology that used light pulses to "see" the environment.

''It is unfortunate that Waymo will be permitted to avoid abiding by the arbitration promise it requires its employees to make. We remain confident in our case and welcome the chance to talk about our independently developed technology in any forum,'' an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch.

But according to judge Alsup, Waymo was not bound to arbitration in this case. ''Defendants have repeatedly accused Waymo of using 'artful' or 'tactical' pleading to evade its arbitration obligations by omitting Levandowski as a defendant,'' judge Alsup wrote. ''These accusations are unwarranted.''