Uber fires self-driving vehicle chief at center of court case

May 31, 2017, 05:24
Uber fires self-driving vehicle chief at center of court case

Faced with a high-profile lawsuit for intellectual property theft, Uber has fired the engineer that Google accuses of stealing thousands of documents when he left the self-driving vehicle company Waymo to create his own start-up.

Meanwhile, Alsup also has referred the case to the U.S. Attorney for a possible criminal investigation.

The judge theorised that Levandowski could have used Waymo's documents himself even if he did not turn them over to Uber.

Levandowski was sacked "for cause", according to a copy of the termination letter obtained by the Washington Post, and he has 20 days to contest the decision if he so chooses.

A telephone message was left Tuesday afternoon for Levandowski.

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In Levandowski's termination letter, which was included in a court filing and is dated 26 May, Uber general counsel Salle Yoo cited Levandowski's failure to comply with the court order as the cause of his firing. Levandowski was awarded $250m in Uber stock as part of the deal, according to documents revealed in court.

The company's letter to Levandowski states that he "represented and warranted" in his employment agreement that he has returned or destroyed all property and confidential information from any previous employer.

Uber said in a letter to Levandowski filed in federal court on Tuesday that it was firing him because he had not complied with a court order to hand over the documents.

According to the Washington Post, Levandowski's lawyers are expected to fight the termination on the grounds that it violates his Fifth Amendment rights.

Levandowski's expertise in robot-controlled cars is the main reason that the ride-hailing company bought his startup for $680 million nine months ago.

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Two years ago, Uber began developing self-driving cars on its own. The company is testing autonomous cars with real passengers in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Uber has never denied that he took the Waymo documents.

Alsup wrote that "in complying with this order, Uber has no excuse under the Fifth Amendment to pull any punches as to Levandowski".

Earlier this month, Judge Alsup ordered Uber to produce a detailed accounting of any contact its employees had with the 14,000 files Mr. Levandowski allegedly stole from Alphabet, as well as any relevant oral or written communications from Mr. Levandowski. He joined Uber as the head of its driverless-car program a year ago after selling his startup to Uber for $680 million.

Levandowski, a co-founder of Otto, headed Uber's efforts to develop self-driving technology for personal driving, delivery and trucking.

"In a sense, Waymo has already won a battle here by basically forcing Levandowski off of Uber's team", said Eric Goldman, director of Santa Clara Law's High Tech Law Institute.

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