Trump Pardons Former Google Engineer Anthony Levandowski

Donald Trump continues to make waves for the tech industry, even on his final day as President of the United States.

President Trump, in one of his final acts in office, pardoned 72 other individuals and commuted the prison sentences of 70 more, including two rappers, a former city major, and the former Breitbart News boss Steve Bannon.

Among those others pardoned by President Trump is Anthony Levandowski, the former Google (Waymo) senior executive who in August last year was sentenced to 18 months in prison for what a US judge described as the biggest trade secret theft he had ever seen.

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Presidential Pardon

Levandowski had been indicted by a federal grand jury in San Jose in August 2019 for the theft of trade secrets, after he loaded more than 14,000 Google files onto his laptop before leaving Waymo in January 2016.

What was notable about this case is that Levandowski was a founding member of Google’s self-driving car project, Waymo, before he left to found Otto, a self-driving truck company that was later acquired by Uber.

It should be noted that Levandowski never actually began his prison sentence, as the Judge last August had allowed it to be delayed indefinitely because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the White House statement revealing who President Trump had pardoned, Levandowski’s pardon was apparently supported by some figures from the tech industry including billionaire investor Peter Thiel.

“President Trump granted a full pardon to Anthony Levandowski,” reads the White House statement. “Mr. Levandowski is an American entrepreneur who led Google’s efforts to create self-driving technology. Mr. Levandowski pled guilty to a single criminal count arising from civil litigation.”

“Notably, his sentencing judge called him a “brilliant, groundbreaking engineer that our country needs,” said the White House. “Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good.”

Levandowski took to Twitter to thank President Trump.

“My family and I are grateful for the opportunity to move forward, and thankful to the President and others who supported and advocated on my behalf,” he tweeted.

Trade secrets

The whole issue with Levandowski began back in 2017, when Google’s Waymo filed a trade secrets lawsuit against Uber, alleging that Levandowski had stolen technology contained in 14,000 documents, from Waymo for use by Otto (a company subsequently acquired by Uber).

Uber in February 2018 agreed to pay Waymo $245m (£184m) in shares to settle the legal dispute over trade secrets.

And in June 2018 the boss of Uber admitted his firm was talking with Waymo.

As part of that settlement, it was decided that an independent software expert would be drafted in to review Uber’s technology for any Waymo links.

In November 2019 that expert review found that Uber was still using Waymo technology for its own autonomous vehicle technology.

In January 2020, Waymo was awarded $128 million over Uber’s use of stolen technology.

Levandowski lawsuits

But there is another twist to this story, in that Levandowski remains in a legal battle with Uber, alleging it should be liable for the $179 million he was ordered to pay Google.

In a separate suit, Levandowski argued Uber owes him a staggering $4.1 billion in lost value from the Otto deal.

Levandowski’s lawsuit made startling claims against Waymo and Uber, saying that he had told Google’s Larry Page he was leaving Waymo to start his own self-driving firm Otto.

That latest lawsuit, filed as part of Levandowski’s bankruptcy proceedings, mostly focuses on Uber’s agreement to indemnify Levandowski against legal action when it bought his self-trucking company, Otto Trucking.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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