Uber’s Anthony Levandowski invokes Fifth Amendment rights in Waymo suit

Uber executive and Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski is asserting his Fifth Amendment rights in regard to a lawsuit filed by Waymo against Uber, which accuses the company and Levandowski of stealing technology related to autonomous vehicles from the Google self-driving car project prior to his departure. A lawyer for Levandowski told the court that the engineer would exercise his Fifth Amendment rights broadly because there exists “potential for criminal action” which could lead to self-incrimination, as reported by The New York Times.

In court transcripts from a Thursday hearing reviewed by TechCrunch, Levandowski’s lawyer invokes the amendment in what appears to be a precaution related to a document release by Uber. Uber’s lawyers claim that the company doesn’t have the documents Levandowski allegedly stole from Waymo and therefore won’t be handing them over tomorrow as part of a scheduled document production.

“We’re broadly asserting Mr. Levandowski’s Fifth Amendment rights as to any documents he may possess and control that are of relevance to this action,” a lawyer for Levandowski told the court. Levandowski’s assertion of his Fifth Amendment privilege could change, however, as the case moves forward.

Levandowski’s acknowledgement of his potential criminal liability is another interesting turn in what has been a dramatic court proceeding thus far between the two companies. Waymo claims that Levandowski stole thousands of confidential documents from the company (when it was still Google’s self-driving car project, during which time Levandowski was employed there), and then took steps to cover up the theft.

So far, Uber has focused its defense on questioning why Waymo has not handled this apparent violation of Levandowski’s employment agreement via arbitration, which is the means it contractually requires for dealing with disputes with employees. It was revealed earlier this week that Waymo did indeed pursue arbitration against Levandowski in October, prior to filing suit against his employer this February. That action focused on accusations of employee poaching, however, and left out the claims of proprietary information theft, which Uber says should also be subject to arbitration.

Although Uber has worked to distance itself from Levandowski, Judge William Alsup indicated during the hearing that he was inclined to stop Uber from using any technology copied from Google as the case progresses.

“Some of the things in your motion are bogus. You’ve got things in there like lists of suppliers as trade secrets. Come on. It undermines the whole thing,” he told Waymo, according to the transcript. However, Judge Alsup also warned Uber about the gravity of Waymo’s allegations. “There are some things in that motion that are very serious. They are genuine trade secrets. And if you don’t come in with a denial, you’re probably looking at a preliminary injunction,” he told Uber.

“If his truck driving company gets shut down because of theft of trade secrets on a record that he’s not willing to deny, too bad for him. Too bad. Listen, I’m not sympathetic to it. You represent somebody who’s in a mess,” Alsup told Levandowski’s attorney.

Judge Alsup had previously criticized Uber for making heavy redactions of documents it submitted to the court relevant to the case. (Uber later claimed that Waymo had asked for the redactions.)

Uber Associate General Counsel Angela Padilla provided the following statement regarding the case, when we contacted the company for response:

We look forward to our first public response laying out our case on Friday, April 7. We are very confident that Waymo’s claims against Uber are baseless and that Anthony Levandowski has not used any files from Google in his work with Otto or Uber.