Tesla Sues Former Employees for Theft of Autopilot Code, Trade Secrets


Tesla refers to the company as X Motors. "These materials and knowhow were developed by Tesla over many years, and at great expense", the company's lawyers write.

Alphabet Inc's Waymo self-driving vehicle unit took Uber Technologies to court after a former employee stole thousands of confidential documents and became chief of Uber's self-driving auto project. In 2017, the company took on Sterling Anderson, the former director of Tesla's Autopilot project, after he left the company and co-founded Aurora, a self-driving vehicle start-up. The document contained an attachment with a "modified version of a Tesla proprietary document, freshly-emblazoned with the Zoox logo, yet still bearing the layout, design, and other vestiges of the Tesla version".

Tesla is accusing a former employee of stealing intellectual property worth hundreds of millions of dollars and sharing it with a Chinese rival.

Four of those employees now work for Zoox, a self-driving startup.

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Founded in 2014 Tim Kentley-Klay and Dr. Jesse Levinson, Zoox is a California based robotics startup that creates autonomous mobility. In January, Zoox announced it hired former Intel Corp.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in San Francisco federal court, Tesla accused Guangzhi Cao, a former engineer on its Autopilot team, of uploading more than 300,000 files and directories, as well as copies of source code, to his personal cloud storage account before abruptly quitting the company on Jan 3. Now four years old, Zoox recently installed Intel veteran Aicha Evans as CEO after ousting its founder in August. Moreover, Cao, while leaving the company, deleted 140,000 files from his work computer, then "repeatedly logged into Tesla's secure networks", presumably to do some cleaning-up.

Tesla filed lawsuits Wednesday against 4 former employees and their new employer, Zoox, accusing them of stealing Tesla trade secrets. The nascent technology has apparently proved hard to develop within the most optimistic projected time-frames. Tesla says the group's alleged theft was "blatant and intentional".

The Guangzhou-based company's U.S. research arm, XMotors.ai, said in a statement Thursday that it "respects any third-party's intellectual property rights and confidential information". "The company has been complying and will comply [with] all applicable laws and regulations", the spokesperson told Reuters. The Chinese carmaker said it had started an internal investigation to look into the matter. It started selling its first and only electric vehicle, the XPeng G3, in China in December. At least one of the four employees also used Tesla's confidential data to target and influence other Tesla employees for hiring by Zoox. XPeng responded by saying that it "was not aware of any alleged misconduct by Mr. Cao".