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SAN FRANCISCO — Uber wants an explosive patent infringement lawsuit that could be worth millions sent to binding arbitration rather than open court.

The request, which Uber expects to file within the next two weeks, adds a new twist to what promises to be a high-stakes battle over the future of self-driving car technology.

Waymo, which started as Google’s self-driving car unit, filed suit Feb. 23 claiming Uber’s laser sensor tech for self-driving cars is based on data stolen by former Google engineer — and now key Uber executive — Anthony Levandowski.

Uber initially responded that the “baseless” charge was just an attempt to slow a competitor.

Now Uber plans to argue that the matter belongs not in court but in private binding arbitration because that’s what Levandowski’s original employment contract with Google required. Waymo, the new name of Google’s self-driving car project, did not respond to a request for comment.

Uber announced its intention March 16 when both sides met for the first time in a preliminary case management conference in the courtroom of Judge William Haskell Alsup in U.S. District Court in the Northern district of California in San Francisco.

The company’s reasoning: The issue of the stolen trademarked information and intellectual property is between Levandowski and his former employer because the alleged theft took place while Levandowski was employed at Alphabet’s Google.

Uber still would be involved in the private arbitration but would presumably benefit by not having the case aired in public court.

Arbitration generally is “quicker, cheaper and more efficient, and it’s confidential and private,” said Stephen Hirschfeld, a partner at Hirschfeld Kraemer, a San Francisco-based employment law firm.

Still, it would be unusual for Uber to ask for arbitration because it doesn’t really have the standing to do so, as Levandowski’s employment contract was with Google, he said.

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By Marco della Cava and Elizabeth Weise
USA Today

 

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