DETROIT — A federal judge's order that bars Uber from using technology taken by a star engineer before he left Waymo is bad news for Uber and likely will hurt the ride-hailing company's own self-driving research, according to legal experts.
The ruling by District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco Monday was mainly a victory for Waymo, the autonomous car unit spun off from Google, even though the judge refused to order a halt to Uber's autonomous car research as Waymo had requested, the experts said.
Waymo showed "compelling evidence" that a former Waymo engineer named Anthony Levandowski downloaded thousands of confidential files before leaving the company, the order said. Levandowski set up his own firms, which then were sold to Uber for $680 million. Evidence showed that Levandowski and Uber planned the acquisitions before Levandowski left Waymo, Alsup's order said.
"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 specializes in white-collar crime and corporate governance. "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."
Waymo sued Uber in February alleging that the ride-hailing company is using stolen self-driving technology to build its own autonomous cars. Monday's ruling prevents Uber from using the technology on a laser navigational tool called Lidar that robotic cars use to see what's around them.