On his final full day in office, Donald Trump pardoned Anthony Levandowski, the engineer at the center of Waymo’s epic 2017 trade secret battle with Uber. Last year, Levandowski pleaded guilty to stealing a single confidential Google document; prosecutors agreed to drop other pending charges against him.
Levandowski was a key early member of Google’s self-driving car project, but he quit Google in early 2016 to found his own self-driving startup. Within months, the startup was acquired by Uber for a nine-figure sum, and Levandowski was put in charge of Uber’s self-driving efforts.
But then, Google’s self-driving unit—now known as Waymo—accused Levandowski of stealing trade secrets. According to Waymo, Levandowski had downloaded thousands of confidential documents from Google in his final days as a Google employee. Waymo says it was tipped off to the theft after Uber submitted a design for a lidar circuit board to a third-party vendor—a vendor also used by Waymo. Uber’s design looked almost identical to Waymo’s.
Waymo sued Uber over the theft. When Levandowski invoked the Fifth Amendment rather than testify in the civil case, Uber fired him. Waymo and Uber settled their lawsuit in early 2018. Levandowski was ultimately ordered to pay Waymo $179 million, forcing him to declare bankruptcy.
Federal prosecutors then charged Levandowski with 30 criminal counts related to the theft of trade secrets. After Levandowski’s guilty plea, a judge sentenced him to 18 months in prison in August.
Levandowski had argued that he had health conditions that put him in particular danger from COVID-19. So the judge allowed Levandowski to delay serving his sentence until the pandemic was over. Now Trump’s pardon means that Levandowski won’t have to serve a day in prison.
According to the White House announcement of the pardon, Levandowski had a number of well-connected supporters. The list included PayPal co-founder and early Facebook funder Peter Thiel and Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey. These men were two of the most prominent Silicon Valley figures to back Donald Trump during the 2016 election.
According to Trump’s pardon announcement, Levandowski “has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good.” Levandowski will likely now focus on Pronto, a self-driving truck startup he co-founded in 2018.