Google's case against Uber just took an unexpected turn, as Uber executive Anthony Levandowski invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
For those unfamiliar with the legal dispute, Google's Waymo filed a lawsuit accusing Uber and Levandowski of stealing technology related to self-driving cars from the Google autonomous vehicle project before Levandowski left the company.
Google vs. Uber Case: Fifth Amendment Rights Invoked
As The New York Times reports, a lawyer from Levandowski's defense team told the court that the Uber exec would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights broadly, as "potential for criminal action" could result in self-incrimination.
TechCrunch has reviewed court transcripts from a hearing on Thursday and reports that Levandowski's lawyer invoked the Fifth in what seems like a precaution tied to an Uber document release. Uber's lawyers argue that the company does not have the documents Levandowski is accused of stealing from Waymo, therefore it cannot hand them over in the scheduled document production.
One of Levandowski's lawyers told the court that they're seeking a broad assertion of Levandowski's Fifth Amendment Rights regarding any documents he might have or control that are relevant to this matter.
As the case proceeds, however, Levandowski's Fifth Amendment privilege assertion could change. Nevertheless, it's an intriguing twist that Levanowski acknowledges he may be criminally liable in this case and it adds more fuel to the already heated dispute between Google's Waymo and Uber.
Waymo vs. Uber: What Happened
For some context, Levandowski previously worked at Google where he was involved in the company's self-driving car project. The engineer then left Google and joined Uber, and Google's Waymo claims that Levandowski didn't leave empty-handed — he stole thousands of documents that were confidential.
Uber's defense so far has focused on why Waymo did not choose arbitration to deal with Levandowski's alleged breach of contract, as arbitration is the go-to solution required by contract for handling disputes with employees.
Just earlier this week, however, news surfaced that Waymo did in fact seek arbitration last October, before proceeding to sue Uber back in February this year. On the other hand, that arbitration focused on claims of employee poaching without mentioning the theft of proprietary, confidential information, and Uber argues that those claims should also be dealt with in arbitration rather than a lawsuit.
It remains to be seen how things will unfold as the case moves forward, but Uber could be banned from using any technology it may have copied from Google. Judge William Alsup, who is presiding over the case, told Uber that the allegations are very serious and the gravity of the matter, involving "genuine trade secrets," could lead to in a preliminary injunction.
Uber's first public response in relation to this case will be on Friday, April 7, and the company is confident that the claims Waymo made against Uber have no ground and Levandowski has not used any Google files after departing the company.
All in all, it looks like the case is heating up and it will be interesting to see how things pan out in the end. As always, we'll keep you up to date as soon as more details hit the surface.