Uber ordered to return stolen confidential files to Waymo

Uber Technologies has been ordered to promptly return stolen confidential files to Alphabet Inc's Waymo self-driving car unit by a US court.

But US district judge William Alsup stopped short of shutting down Uber's autonomous car programme.

According to legal experts, the order is likely to hurt the ride-hailing company's own self-driving research.

The judge wrote that Uber knew, or should have known, that the ex-Waymo engineer it later hired had taken Waymo files potentially containing trade secrets, and that some of the intellectual property had "seeped into" Uber's own development efforts.

The ruling comes as a setback to Uber, as it takes on Waymo in the race to dominate the rapidly-growing field of autonomous vehicles that are  expected to revolutionise the automotive industry.

Under Alsup's ruling, the case had been referred to the US Department of Justice for investigation of possible trade secret theft on Thursday, when the ruling was released under seal.

Uber had also been ordered to keep engineer Anthony Levandowski away from work involving Lidar, a key sensor technology in self-driving cars that was the crux of the current litigation.

The case hinged on files that Waymo engineer Levandowski allegedly stole before he left the company. Waymo claimed the information found its way into Uber's Lidar system.

According to commentators, the ruling yesterday was mainly a victory for Waymo.

Waymo showed ''compelling evidence'' that Levandowski downloaded thousands of confidential files before leaving the company, the ruling said. Levandowski set up his own firms, which he then sold to Uber for $680 million. According to the order, evidence showed that Levandowski and Uber planned the acquisitions before Levandowski left Waymo.

''He clearly believes that Levandowski is guilty as sin and that Uber hired him, knowing this full well,'' said John Coffee, a Columbia University law professor who specialises in white-collar crime and corporate governance, AP reported. ''He is ruling that some of this information is stolen (or ''misappropriated'') and in the long run that will likely have a devastating impact on Uber.''