The acrimonious trade secrets battle could determine the future of Uber's self-driving auto operations and the strength of Waymo's toehold in the sector. Uber purchased Otto in August in a deal reportedly worth $680 million. The ride services company failed to remove the ongoing case from public view and now faces the prospect of getting caught up in a fresh criminal probe.
Alsup also ordered the civil trial to proceed and granted Waymo's request for a partial injunction - filed under seal - which could prevent Uber from deploying the technology.
Complicating Uber's task is the fact that Levandowski, who is not a defendant in the case, has invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination and has refused to testify.
A federal judge has asked for a criminal justice review in the case brought by Alphabet self-driving auto unit Waymo accusing Uber of stealing its technology. "We welcome the court's decision today, and we look forward to holding Uber responsible in court for its misconduct", a statement from the autonomous-vehicle company said.
Uber had sought to persuade Alsup to send the dispute between Waymo and Levandowski to private arbitration hearings.
Uber has vehemently denied using Waymo's ideas, maintaining that its Lidar system is radically different.
In a pileup of bad news for Uber, a federal judge Thursday ruled that it must face a civil trial on accusations of filching driverless auto technology from Google spinoff Waymo, and asked federal prosecutors to consider launching a criminal investigation. Waymo said Uber used its tech to avoid years of costly research.
Waymo, formerly Google's "self-driving car" company, is suing Uber over technology it says was stolen by former Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski.
In another blow, the judge denied Uber's request to move the case out of the courts and into arbitration.
Waymo's lawyers have not yet deposed Kalanick.
Waymo contends that before leaving Google early a year ago, Levandowski downloaded 14,000 documents with details of a navigational tool called Lidar that robotic cars need to see what's around them. Wrote Judge William Alsup. Waymo commented on the decision to go to trial in an emailed statement Thursday: "This was a desperate bid by Uber to avoid the court's jurisdiction".
Technology companies Uber and Waymo, along with Detroit automakers, are in a cutthroat race to develop self-driving technology, which they think could define the future of transportation in the United States.
Asked whether Waymo has communicated with the Justice Department about the prospect of or existence of a criminal investigation, a spokesman declined to comment.
The judge presiding over Waymo's claim blaming Uber for taking trade formulas has requested the federal prosecutors to examine the matter.
Both Uber and Levandowski have impeded Waymo's efforts to ascertain whether the 14,000 stolen files were ever actually used in Uber's self-driving vehicle project, a key to determining culpability.