A federal court judge in California delayed the start of a civil trial between ride-hailing giant Uber and Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car unit, after receiving a memo written by a former Uber employee about the alleged theft of trade secrets.
Judge William Alsup said on Tuesday that he had only just received the memo, which a former Uber security analyst sent to one of the company’s lawyers. The contents of the letter haven’t been shared publicly yet, but The Wall Street Journal reported that Uber employees were trained to “impede” ongoing investigations by using messages that vanished and couldn’t be traced to the company.
The 37-page memo, written earlier this year by Ric Jacobs, detailed the tactics Uber used to allegedly obtain trade secrets and destroy evidence, according to WSJ. Uber fired Jacobs in April.
Waymo asked the court on Monday to postpone the start of the trial, which was set to begin next week, saying Uber had concealed the memo.
“We’re going to have to put the trial off because if even half of what’s in that letter is true it would be a huge injustice to force Waymo to go to trial,” Alsup said on Tuesday, according to the WSJ, as he granted the delay. A new start date hasn’t been set.
Waymo and Uber didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Waymo sued Uber in February, accusing the company of stealing secretive self-driving car technology. The case centers around former Google employee Anthony Levandowski, who allegedly stole 14,000 “highly confidential” files before leaving the company to start his own self-driving truck startup. Uber bought that startup several months later for $680 million and tapped Levandowski to head of its autonomous vehicle program.
Levandowski has since been fired by Uber. But Waymo says that doesn’t dismiss the possibility that the ride-hailing company still used the secrets in the allegedly pilfered files for its own self-driving car tech.
Federal prosecutors from the Department of Justice are also looking at whether the trade secrets in question were taken illegally. So far, no charges have been filed.
Uber has been rocked by scandals over the past year year, including several sexual harassment claims. In a scandal that broke last week, the company tried to cover up a 2016 data breach involving millions of its customers and drivers.
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