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Google's case against Uber just took an unexpected turn

Biz Carson
Travis Kalanick Anthony Levandowski

(Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick with Anthony LevandowskiAssociated Press)
In an unexpected twist to the Uber vs Google case, lawyers for Anthony Levandowski, the star engineer at the center of the trade-secret dispute, have advised him to exercise his fifth amendment right to not incriminate himself in a criminal proceeding, according to a court transcript obtained by Business Insider.

In February, Waymo, the self-driving company owned by Google's parent company Alphabet, sued Uber, claiming that Levandowski had stolen vital Lidar technology shortly before starting his own self-driving company (which Uber later acquired). 

The trade secrets case is shaping up to be one of the most significant and closely-watched battles in Silicon Valley in years, pitting two of the world's most powerful companies, and former partners, against each other.

Levandowski isn't named in the civil suit between the technology giants, but his lawyers met with Judge William Alsup in a hastily arranged conference on Wednesday. 

According to a transcript seen by Business Insider of the court proceedings, Levandowski's lawyers say he plans to assert his fifth amendment rights because there is a "potential for criminal action" against the engineer at the heart of the case. The New York Times first reported the court proceedings.

Part of Waymo's argument against Uber is that Levandowski allegedly stole 14,000 files and took them to Uber to advance its competing self-driving car efforts. It was separately revealed on Wednesday that Google had previously filed demands against Levandowski in arbitration for allegedly using confidential information to poach employees.

In the transcript, it was disclosed that a second employee was also a part of the arbitration proceedings. This person was not identified in the transcript. A Waymo person declined comment.

For the time being, Levandowski's lawyers said that they're "broadly asserting" his Fifth Amendment rights to "any documents he may possess and control" that are relevant. This could include pleading the fifth should Google try to depose him. However, one of his lawyers stressed that he could change his mind as the case progresses and that they're simply protecting his constitutional rights upfront.

Uber's associate general counsel, Angela Padilla, said in a statement provided to Business Insider that it plans to respond in court on April 7. 

"We look forward to our first public response laying out our case on Friday, April 7. We are very confident that Waymo's claims against Uber are baseless and that Anthony Levandowski has not used any files from Google in his work with Otto or Uber," she said. 

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