Uber Robocar Project at Risk as Engineer May Face Charges

A judge said he’s inclined to slap an order on Uber Technologies Inc. that may impede its self-driving car program after being told its director won’t testify because he faces possible criminal action for allegedly stealing Alphabet Inc.’s trade secrets.

A lawyer for Anthony Levandowski, who left Alphabet’s Waymo unit last year and is now head of Uber’s driverless car project, told a San Francisco federal judge Wednesday the engineer would be asserting his rights under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, protecting a person from incriminating himself, according to a transcript of the closed-door court hearing.

If Levandowski doesn’t help defend the ride-hailing company against a lawsuit filed by Waymo, Uber could be at a disadvantage in a case that may decide who controls key technology in the race to market autonomous vehicles. It’s a business that both companies believe will be worth hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars a year.

Levandowski’s lawyer told the judge that the engineer can’t be forced to disclose the files Waymo claims he stole before he resigned. In response, U.S. District Judge William Alsup warned the attorney that unless Levandowski is willing to deny wrongdoing, there’s a “good chance” Waymo’s request for a court order blocking Uber’s use of its proprietary information will be granted. Waymo has demonstrated a “record” of theft, Alsup said.

‘Fifth Amendment’

“If you think for a moment that I’m going to stay my hand, because your guy is taking the Fifth Amendment, and not issue a preliminary injunction to shut down what happened here, you’re…

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