Uber, the transportation network giant, has found themselves facing yet another hurdle this month in the form of a lawsuit from Alphabet over claims of industrial espionage. The lawsuit Waymo filed on March 23rd, alleges former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski secretly downloaded 14,000 proprietary technical files before quitting to found a competing autonomous driving company called Otto. Uber purchased Otto in the summer of 2016 for $680 million.

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An Uber spokesperson called Waymo’s lawsuit a ‘baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.’ Where Alphabet’s lawsuit goes is still up in the air, but it will fall under the newly passed Defend Trade Secrets Act. Congress passed the law in May 2016, expanding intellectual property protection at the federal level. While the law is designed to crack down on foreign agents stealing secrets, it also has some domestic applications as well.

The law allows plaintiffs to seek through the court, an immediate, temporary injunction, shutting down development of conflicted projects. In this case, Waymo has the ability to shut down Uber’s self-driving vehicle testing until the conclusion of the suit. The law also allows for permanent injunctive relief, potentially forcing Uber to halt any part of its self-driving vehicle technology related to the stolen technology. Finally, the law empowers plaintiffs to seize products of its trade secrets, even before the case has reached a conclusion.

Alphabet has not sought out any immediate interventions yet, beyond filing their suit. ‘It would have to be a situation where someone’s running off to China, beyond the jurisdiction of the court, or someone’s going to destroy something, or they’re going to post the design drawings on the Internet,’ says John Marsh, a litigator with the law firm Hahn Loeser. ‘There probably isn’t enough of a factual predicate to justify that extraordinary remedy.’ The current situation isn’t dire enough to warrant immediate federal intervention quite yet beyond the suit and ensuing investigation.

Alphabet claims it has forensic evidence to prove their suit, for instance, the quantity of data Levandowski allegedly downloaded to an external device. If Alphabet and Waymo win their suit, Uber could be not only penalized monetarily, but any actors who helped conspire against Alphabet may face time in prison, up to 10 years.

AARIAN MARSHALL (2017, February). “Google’s Robocar Lawsuit Could Kill Uber’s Future and Send Execs to Prison,” Wired Magazine – online. https://www.wired.com/2017/02/googles-robocar-lawsuit-kill-ubers-future-send-execs-prison/

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