Trump pardons convicted ex-Google engineer Levandowski

Driverless car expert "grateful for the opportunity to move forward" after his 18-month prison sentence is nullified

A self-driving Waymo car outside the Google offices

A former Google engineer who pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets from the tech giant has been pardoned by President Donald Trump.

Anthony Levandowski was due to serve an 18-month prison sentence for downloading documents relating to Google's driverless car startup Waymo in 2016.

His inclusion among the 130 pardons issued on the last day of Trump's presidency came as a surprise, but it was backed by a number of figures from the tech industry, such as controversial investor Peter Thiel and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.

"Mr Levandowski pled guilty to a single criminal count arising from civil litigation," the White House notice read. "Notably, his sentencing judge called him a 'brilliant, groundbreaking engineer that our country needs'. Mr Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good."

"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," Levandowski said to TechCrunch.

Levandowski did plead guilty in a federal court to downloading sensitive documents relating to Google's driverless car startup Waymo before leaving to start his own company, Otto in 2016. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison in August, but the ruling judge suspended the sentence due to the pandemic. Levandowski's legal team also argued he was vulnerable to COVID-19 due to having pneumonia.

Otto was acquired by Uber within eight months of Levandowski's departure from Waymo and Google swiftly launched legal action against its former engineer and a separate suit against Uber. The two tech firms settled, with Uber agreeing to not incorporate any information from Waymo and also pay a one-off fee.

Levandowski, however, was made bankrupt by a $179 million award against him. The amount is still subject to another legal dispute in which Levandowski claims Uber is partly responsible for the payment. Levandowski is also seeking damages from Uber for value lost from his Otto startup.

IT Pro has contacted Google and Uber for comment.

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