The ongoing legal war between Uber and Waymo over their self-driving car technologies has claimed a major casualty. Uber has fired its self-driving head Anthony Levandowski, who was at the center of this battle.
Here’s a quick recap of this very public, very nasty legal dispute. Waymo, the self-driving car subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, filed a lawsuit against Uber in February. The lawsuit was based on Uber’s acquisition of a startup called Otto in 2016. That company was founded by Levandowski, who just happened to have previously worked at Waymo as the head of its self-driving division.
Waymo claimed that Levandowski had taken over 14,000 files from the company before he left to found Otto. Waymo says those files included designs for its custom LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) system for its self-driving cars. Waymo claims this was part of a plan by Levandowski and Otto, now owned by Uber, to steal the company’s property and use it for Uber’s own self-driving car system.
At first, Uber said that Waymo’s lawsuit was “a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.” However, in late April Uber confirmed that Levandowski would have a smaller role at the company while the lawsuit was making its way through the court system.
Now The New York Times reports that Levandowski’s lawyers have refused to abide by an order from a federal court judge for him to turn over files and evidence he has in this case. Instead, Levandowski has invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, claiming that those files might incriminate him.
In an email that was sent to Uber employees, the company stated it has tried to convince Levandowski to turn in those files and any other evidence he has. Since he has refused, it has now terminated his employment with the company. Uber’s email continues to insist that “our self-driving technology has been built independently” from Waymo. However, the firing of Levandowski puts Uber in a huge predicament, and we suspect that it may have very little choice but to settle this fight with Waymo, one way or another.