Technology

Judge denies Uber’s request for private arbitration, sending Waymo case to trial.

Ride-share innovator Uber will defend itself in public court after a California federal judge ruled that its dispute with rival Waymo could not be resolved by private arbitration.

Waymo, which alleges an Uber engineer stole its designs for self-driving cars, prefers a public trial. The judge agreed. Further, the judge referred the case to the country’s top prosecutor for investigation

Experts say the case is likely to be one of the biggest intellectual property battles of the 21st century. The dispute centers around fundamental technology used in self-driving cars, an emerging market that promises to be highly profitable.

The two companies involved in the case are among the top tech firms in the world. Uber exploded to prominence with its innovative ride-sharing business model, and Waymo is the self-driving car company created by Google.

Judge William Alsup not only required that the case proceed to trial, but also referred the case to U.S. attorneys for investigation of the theft of trade secrets. If the investigation shows trade-secret theft, the Uber engineer whose actions sparked the case could face jail time.

Waymo says its employee, Anthony Levandowski, stole confidential files from the company before leaving to start his own company, Otto, to build self-driving trucks. Uber bought Otto for $680 million last year, primarily based on the value of Levandowski’s designs.

Levandowski has not testified in hearings to date, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.