Uber threatens to fire self-driving car engineer in trade secrets case

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The lead lawyer for Uber has threatened to fire Anthony Levandowski, one of the company's top self-driving auto engineers, if he refuses to cooperate with an ongoing investigation into accusations that he stole trade secrets from Waymo, the autonomous vehicle division of Google's parent company Alphabet.

Uber has sent Levandowski a four-page letter on Monday saying that he must fulfill with the court order which oblige him to surrender the 14,000 documents and a huge accounting of any Uber personnel's usage or awareness of the files.

Waymo's decision to file its trade-secrets case against Uber in court "was not only reasonable but also the only course available", because Waymo has no arbitration agreement with Uber, Alsup wrote. "Competition should be fueled by innovation in the labs and on the roads, not through unlawful actions", Waymo spokesman Johnny Luu said. "Waymo has presented strong evidence that Uber has stolen our trade secrets and used our confidential information", Waymo said in a statement Thursday. Alsup is requiring Uber to perform an investigation into the stolen Waymo files and provide the Google-owned company with a record of communication between Uber and Levandowski regarding the Lidar system. Uber told Levandowski to comply, or face firing. Uber bought Otto last August for $680 million and named Levandowski head of its self-driving vehicle program. Waymo declined to comment and Uber did not respond to a request for comment.

In a letter written earlier in the week and made public on Thursday, Uber's general counsel Salle Yoo stated that any refusal by Levandowski to comply with the investigation could be actionable.

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The court order forcing Uber to make the demand of him is "an act by the judicial branch of our federal government compelling an individual to choose between preserving his livelihood and preserving his constitutional rights". "We insist that you do everything in your power to assist us in complying with the order". To bolster its case, Uber pointed to two arbitration proceedings Waymo initiated against Levandowski over his alleged poaching of employees.

"We understand that this letter requires you to turn over information wherever located, including but not limited to, your personal devices, and to waive any Fifth Amendment protection you may have", Yoo wrote. He has not denied taking the Waymo documents.

"This letter confirms that you are (and always have been) prohibited from consulting, copying, or otherwise using any downloaded materials for any reason or objective whatsoever, including, without limitation, any activities undertaken with respect to your employment at Uber", Woo wrote.

But Levandowski's priorities - protecting himself from criminal action - has been in conflict with Uber's attempts to do away with this lawsuit and go ahead with its autonomous efforts.

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