April 3, 2017 / 10:53 PM / 6 months ago

Waymo targets second senior executive in Uber self-driving dispute

The Waymo logo is displayed during the company's unveil of a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 8, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Alphabet’s self-driving car unit Waymo initiated private legal proceedings against two former executives who launched a rival company acquired by Uber [UBER.UL], court records show, accusing them of trying to recruit Waymo employees to the new startup that aims to revolutionize the auto industry.

One co-founder, Anthony Levandowski, has already been named in court documents as facing arbitration initiated by Waymo last October. However, court filings made public on Monday showed that Waymo targeted a second co-founder as well, Lior Ron, heightening legal uncertainty surrounding the unit Uber acquired.

Waymo and Uber are fighting in court over self-driving technology that Waymo says was stolen by a former employee who founded another company, Otto, that was later acquired by Uber. The Waymo lawsuit pits two Silicon Valley titans against each other.

Before the lawsuit filed in February, Waymo had begun two arbitration proceedings, including one involving Levandowski, a former Google executive and Otto co-founder. Waymo said he tried to recruit Waymo employees to his new startup, according to arbitration documents released on Monday.

The court filings on Monday showed that a second Otto “co-founder” also was involved in arbitration. The name was largely redacted except on the last page, and a description of the person’s work history matches that of Ron, who lists himself on LinkedIn as an Otto co-founder still at the company, now a part of Uber.

Neither Ron nor Uber immediately returned emails seeking comment. Uber has said Waymo’s claims in its lawsuit are baseless. Waymo declined comment.

Waymo’s lawsuit alleges that longtime Waymo engineer Levandowski downloaded over 14,000 confidential documents before leaving the company to start Otto. Waymo claims Uber, which subsequently bought Otto, benefited from the trade secrets theft.

In a bid to avoid trial and send the case to arbitration, Uber last week disclosed the arbitration proceedings that Waymo had initiated.

Levandowski had been paid $120 million by Waymo in incentive payments, the court documents showed. Waymo has called the payments “unjust enrichment.”

The two arbitration claims, which sought punitive and other damages, alleged that the former Waymo executives used confidential information, such as salaries, to recruit co-workers to their new company.

The Waymo arbitration document states that there was a campaign underway, while Levandowski and Ron still worked for Google, “to use Google’s confidential information regarding the unique skills, experiences and compensation packages of Google employees ... to lure them from Google to a new, competing venture.”

Editing by Peter Henderson and Tom Brown

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