SAN FRANCISCO -- Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo self-driving unit sought to arbitrate claims last year against a former employee at the center of its lawsuit against Uber, court records released on Wednesday showed, in what Uber said strengthened its bid to get the case out of court and into arbitration.
Waymo's lawsuit, filed last month, set in motion what could be a long and acrimonious battle between the two tech rivals over trade secrets. Both companies are vying to be first to market and commercialize self-driving cars, which is considered one of the biggest opportunities for both the tech and auto sectors.
But arbitration, which is a private process to resolve disputes, could keep the battle out of the public eye.
Court documents filed by Uber Technologies on Wednesday said that Waymo sought arbitration on Oct. 28 for two claims against its former employee, engineer Anthony Levandowski. Those claims involved allegations that Levandowski used confidential information to recruit co-workers to his new rival company, the court records showed.
Levandowski will assert his Fifth Amendment right in Waymo’s lawsuit against Uber, The New York Times reported Thursday. He is exercising his right to avoid self-incrimination because there was “potential for criminal action,” according to court transcripts, the paper said.
Levandowski was a long-time employee of Google's self-driving division - whose name later changed to Waymo -- before leaving to co-found Otto, an autonomous driving startup later acquired by Uber. Otto is also a defendant in the case.
In its lawsuit, Waymo alleges that Levandowski downloaded and stole more than 14,000 confidential files, including details on light detection and ranging sensor technology, known as Lidar, a crucial element in most self-driving car systems, before leaving the company.
Uber is seeking to get the high-profile case sent to arbitration, arguing that Waymo's allegations against Uber are "inextricably bound up" with Levandowski's employment agreement with Waymo.
Uber said the revelation that Waymo itself sought arbitration bolstered its own case for arbitration.
"There should be no dispute concerning the validity of the arbitration agreements themselves in view of Waymo's arbitration demand against Levandowski based on those agreements," wrote Uber in its motion filed in federal court in San Francisco.
Waymo has not yet replied in court to Uber's motion to compel arbitration.