ROADBLOCK IN PLACE: Court Grants Limited Preliminary Injunction in Waymo v. Uber

3 minute read | May.17.2017

Imagine preparing for that big meeting on your way to work, while you ride along in your car—without the need for a driver. What sounds like it might be out of a sci-fi movie, may actually be the not-so-distant future.  Such technology is at the center of the Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies, Inc. litigation. The self-driving technology at issue hasn’t been the only intriguing part of this case–the litigation itself has been action packed, and we’ve been watching closely. As you’ll recall from previous posts, Waymo alleged that, while working at Waymo, its star engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded over 14,000 confidential files before leaving the company to start his own competing business, Ottomoto, which was later acquired by Uber.  The twists and turns of this fast-paced litigation have included Uber’s denied petition for arbitration, Fifth Amendment invocations by Levandowski and his failed appeal, a criminal referral by Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California, and now an order granting a “limited” preliminary injunction blocking any participation of Levandowski in Uber’s self-driving car project.

Waymo sought an injunction on both patent and trade secret claims. The court denied the PI based on a patent infringement theory, finding that Waymo’s expert had been wrong in the technology he predicted Uber used and that the version of Uber’s technology that potentially could have infringed was no longer in use.  On the other hand, the Court was persuaded by the evidence that a PI on the trade secret misappropriation theory was warranted.

In particular, the Court found that Waymo provided strong evidence that Levandowski had in fact taken and kept over 14,000 confidential files and that aspects of Uber’s design were exactly the same or suspiciously similar to Waymo’s. Although the Court granted Waymo’s request for a PI, it found that the balance of the equities required it fashion a more “limited” remedy than simply enjoining Uber from using any of the 121 purported trade secrets that Waymo alleged in its briefing.  Throughout its opinion, the Court made clear that Waymo had overreached in defining what constituted a trade secret—calling it “litigation gamesmanship”—and finding that it undermined Waymo’s credibility.

Instead, the Court generally forbid conduct relating to Levandowski’s employment at Uber, requiring that Uber (1) prevent the use of and return the material Levandowski had downloaded, (2) halt Levandowski’s participation in Uber’s self-driving car project, including any communications with those individuals who continued to be involved, (3) conduct an investigation into “every person who has seen or heard any part of any downloaded materials” and the use of those materials, and (4) file a chronology of all communications—written and oral—where Levandowski mentioned the technology at issue. The Court further granted Waymo additional expedited discovery in addition to the normal discovery procedures available to it.

We’ll be sure to continue monitoring this case closely and provide you with more exciting updates as they come.