Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski, the former chief engineer of Google's autonomous self-driving project 'Waymo', after he was accused of stealing trade secrets from Google's Alphabet Inc. Unit in its ongoing court dispute with Waymo.
Levandowski has reportedly quit Google to setup his own autonomous trucking startup called "Otto", which was later acquired by Uber for around $700 million in 2016. Following the acquisition, Uber has been accused of using stolen trade secrets and patents from Waymo in their development of self-driving technology.
Despite Uber's request to comply with the court's instructions to help in the investigation, Levandowski has chosen to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and not to testify in the case. Consequently, Uber has been compelled by the US District Judge William Alsup to force Levandowski to cooperate with the court's proceedings.
With Uber's repeated attempts failing to convince Levandowski, the company issued a 20-day deadline notice to comply with the court's proceedings and cooperate in the investigation, else risk losing his job.
After Levandowski refused to cooperate, Uber issued the termination letter dated May 26, while Alsup notified Uber with another deadline on May 31 to return all confidential files downloaded by Levandowski before quitting the job, according to Bloomberg.
Uber has denied having access to any of those trade secrets on its computer servers while not refuting claims that Levandowski may have stolen some of Waymo's confidential files. Levandowski was terminated by Uber on May 30 and an Uber spokeswoman reportedly declined to comment on the subject.
Levandowski has been accused of illegally downloading 14,000 files with some pertaining to Waymo's Lidar, which is said to be a key component of self-driving systems. The court ruling requires Levandowski to quit his current job at Uber, until the Waymo dispute is resolved.
Levandowski's salary package at Uber has also come under scrutiny as Waymo has accused Uber of awarding its company shares worth over $250 million. Uber has, however, justified its stance that his compensation was tied to various performance parameters and targets, which were never met as he quit the job too soon.
Eric Meyhofer has now replaced Levandowski as the chief engineer of Uber's self-driving project.