Autonomous Uber car
Uber could be forced to temporarily stop using autonomous car technology as Waymo court case heats up Reuters

Uber could be forced to stop using its self-driving car technology as a result of an employee stealing key intellectual property from Google's own autonomous vehicle company, Waymo.

The US judge overseeing a case brought by Waymo against Uber, accusing it of using the stolen documents to develop copycat autonomous technology, has said he will not rule out issuing an injunction, even if the engineer at the centre of the case, Anthony Levandowski, refuses to testify.

Although not a defendant in the case, Levandowski is a key figure as Waymo believes he stole over 14,000 confidential documents while working at the Google company.

Levandowski then set up an autonomous truck firm called Otto, which was acquired by Uber for $680m (£545m); Levandowski is then alleged by Google to have taken the documents to Uber, helping it create the autonomous taxis it is currently testing on US roads.

A hearing is scheduled for 3 May 2017, when Waymo will ask the court for a preliminary injunction, temporarily stopping Uber from using the technology at least until the trial has ended. Uber has not filed a response in court, but says Waymo's claims are baseless.

Uber's associate general counsel Angela Padilla said in a statement: "We look forward to our first public response laying out our case on Friday, 7 April. 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."

Levandowski's lawyer Miles Ehrlich says his client would be asserting his Fifth Amendment right, a US legal protection where he can refuse to speak in court due to the risk of incriminating himself. Meanwhile, Uber's expected strategy is to distance itself from the lawsuit, convincing the court that the documents were in Levandowski's possession, not its own, and that its technology is not the result of the documents, regardless of who had access to them.

But US District Court Judge William Alsup has other ideas, saying on 30 March: "If you think for a moment that I'm going to stay my hand because your guy is taking the Fifth Amendment and not issue a preliminary injunction to shut [Uber's autonomous technology testing]'re wrong," according to a court transcript seen by Reuters.

Alsup also said: "There is a good chance that Uber is going to get hit with a preliminary injunction come 3 May."