Uber Technologies sacks Anthony Levandowski

Uber Technologies Inc said yesterday that it has sacked the head of its self-driving unit, Anthony Levandowski, over his failure to comply with a court order for handing over documents that are at the centre of a legal dispute between Uber and Alphabet Inc's Waymo unit.

Uber had hoped Levandowski, one the most respected engineers in the field of autonomous vehicle technology in Silicon Valley, would help the ride services company catch up with rivals, including Waymo, in the race for self-driving technology. But the hiring led to a court fight and the threat of criminal charges. Levandowski was replaced as the head of its self-driving car unit in April before Uber took the decision to fire him.

Levandowski earlier worked with Alphabet's Waymo self-driving division, which said he stole trade secrets by downloading over 14,000 documents before he left. Though Levandowski is not a defendant, Uber is facing a lawsuit over his actions.

In a letter to Levandowski filed in a federal court yesterday, Uber said he was being fired for non-compliance with a court order to hand over the documents.

Levandowski declined to cooperate citing his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself. Uber and Alphabet are in a face off in court over technology expected to revolutionise the way people used cars.

According to commentators, the firing does not change the fact that the lawsuit would go forward in court and could even result in a criminal investigation against Uber.

Waymo had also started arbitration proceedings against Lewandowski, though he was not personally part of the ongoing lawsuit. Waymo had also got a partial injunction to stop Uber's self-driving R&D efforts but details are yet to be revealed.