San Francisco (AFP) - Uber on Tuesday confirmed that it has fired an engineer accused in a trade secrets suit involving files he purportedly purloined from Alphabet's self-driving car unit Waymo.
The firing of Anthony Levandowski came just ahead of a date set by a judge for Uber to return files taken from Waymo.
Levandowski missed a company deadline for assisting with an internal investigation related to the litigation, according to an Uber spokesperson who asked not to be named.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed in February by Waymo, formerly known as the Google self-driving car unit, which claimed former manager Levandowski took a trove of technical data with him when he left to launch a competing venture that went on to become Otto and was later acquired by Uber.
San Francisco-based Uber said it pressed Levandowski for months to help with the investigation, and did not want to wait until the matter made its way through the courts to decide whether to let him go.
In mid-May, US District Court Judge William Alsup issued a partial injunction that fell short of the complete shutdown of Uber's self-driving car efforts that Alphabet lawyers had requested.
"Waymo has supplied a compelling record that Levandowski pilfered over 14,000 files from Waymo, and that Uber knew or should have known as much when it brought him on board," Alsup said in his order.
Waymo's lawsuit contends that Levandowski in December 2015 downloaded files from a highly confidential design server to a laptop and took the data with him to the startup.
The judge ordered Uber to do everything in its power to prevent information taken from Waymo from being used at the on-demand ride company and to return all copies to Waymo, or the court, by the end of May.
Under the order, Levandowski was barred from being involved at Uber with anything to do with LiDAR, an object-sensing technology used to help self-driving cars "see," which is at the heart of the suit.
Waymo argued in the lawsuit that a "calculated theft" of its technology netted Otto a buyout of more than $500 million and enabled Uber to revive a stalled self-driving car program.
Uber acquired commercial transport-focused Otto late last year as the company pressed ahead with its pursuit of self-driving technology.
Levandowski, a co-founder of Otto, headed Uber's efforts to develop self-driving technology for personal driving, delivery and trucking.