Uber Executive Accused of Stealing Driverless Car Technology from Google Invokes Fifth Amendment, Seeks to Avoid Charges

Anthony Levandowski, head of Uber’s self-driving program, was accused of stealing technology from his former employers at Google. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

An Uber executive accused of stealing driverless car technology from his former employers at Google is exercising his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination, according to his lawyers.

The lawyers for Anthony Levandowski, the former head of Google’s self-driving car project who is now leading a similar effort at Uber, said he was broadly asserting his Fifth Amendment rights because there was “potential for criminal action” in the case, according to court transcripts obtained on Thursday.

The legal maneuver adds even more intrigue to the high-profile fight between two of the technology industry’s largest companies, which are squaring off in the race to put driverless cars on the road.

Mr. Levandowski is at the center of a lawsuit between Uber and Waymo, which was spun out from Google to become its own Alphabet subsidiary. Waymo has accused Mr. Levandowski of stealing documents and poaching employees before quitting Google and then colluding with Uber to use that technology to advance driverless car efforts at the ride-hailing service.

Shortly after leaving Google, Mr. Levandowski started his own self-driving truck start-up, Otto. Six months after Otto was formed, Uber acquired the company for $680 million. Waymo filed a motion seeking a temporary injunction this month to stop Uber’s autonomous vehicle development.

As part of the motion seeking the injunction, Waymo said that Mr. Levandowski, while still working at Google, installed software that allowed him to download over 14,000 files, or about 9.7 gigabytes of data, pertaining to the driverless car program. Uber was ordered to hand over those files.

In the transcript of a private hearing before Judge William Alsup in United States District Court in San Francisco, Mr. Levandowski’s lawyers said he was invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination in not turning over documents that may pertain to the case. Arturo Gonzalez, one of Uber’s lawyers, said they have made clear to Mr. Levandowski that he needs to release any documents relevant to the case as part of discovery. “We obviously have a conflict,” he said.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Daisuke Wakabayashi and Mike Isaac