Google's self-driving car unit is rebranding as Waymo as it spins out of its experimental X lab as a standalone company inside Alphabet
Waymo, the driverless car unit of Alphabet

Uber took steps on Thursday to avoid a courtroom showdown with Alphabet’s Waymo driverless car unit that could see chief executive Travis Kalanick and other executives forced to take the stand.

A lawyer for the car-booking app told the judge overseeing an intellectual property dispute between the two companies that Uber would seek to have the case moved to compulsory arbitration — a process that would force it behind closed doors and leave it to a three-judge panel, rather than a jury, to decide the outcome.

Tyler Ochoa, a professor at Santa Clara University’s law school, said the arbitration gambit also appeared to signal an attempt to avoid a looming injunction request from Waymo that could result in Uber being forced to halt its work on driverless cars.

“This strikes me as a long shot,” he added of the Uber legal bid.

Waymo, which began life as part of Google before being reorganised into a separate division of Alphabet, sued Uber last month claiming theft of trade secrets, patent infringement and unfair competition.

It claimed that Anthony Levandowski, a former engineer on the Google car project, and two other employees took thousands of documents with them when they set up their own start-up and then sold out to Uber.

Uber’s request for arbitration is based on Mr Levandowski’s employment contract while he was at Google. Such agreements often have arrangements that require arbitration of disputes, something that Uber hopes to use to force Waymo to accept arbitration of its claims.

However, Mr Ochoa said it would be unusual for an employee to have the right to force arbitration on a former employer in that way.

Appearing in Federal court in San Francisco, Arturo Gonzalez, Uber’s lawyer, told Judge William Alsup that Uber planned to file a motion asking for arbitration within the next two weeks.

The request comes as the litigation calendar between the two driverless car rivals gathers momentum, with Uber due to respond to Waymo’s complaint on March 27 and address its request for an injunction on April 7.

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