Tesla sues former employee, claiming theft of Autopilot source code

clock • 3 min read

Tesla alleges that an engineer who left suddenly in January copied more than 300,000 files containing Autopilot source code

Tesla has filed a lawsuit against a former employee, claiming that they stole the source code of the company's Autopilot autonomous vehicle system after accepting a job offer from a Chinese rival. 

In a second lawsuit, the company has accused four other former employees of taking trade secrets to US rival. 

In the first lawsuit, filed in a US federal district court in California, Elon Musk's company accused former engineer Guangzhi Cao of copying the source code of Tesla's Autopilot technology before joining China-based Xiaopeng Motors Technology Company (also known as XPeng) in January.

Tesla claimed that Cao, an engineer who worked on the Autopilot driver assistance feature, copied more than 300,000 files related to the source code before abruptly quitting in January.

According to Tesla, Cao had started searching for a new job in November 2018 and received a verbal offer from XMotors before the end of the month.

In the complaint, Tesla refers to Xiaopeng Motors as XMotors.

According to Tesla, Cao started uploading the source code to his Apple iCloud account after receiving the job offer from XMotors.

On 12 December 2018, he got a written job offer, after which he started deleting files from the iCloud. Before finally departing from Tesla on 3rd January 2019, Cao had deleted his browsing history, Tesla claimed.

"Tesla's confidential information is not safe in the hands of XMotors or its employees," the complaint reads.

The company said it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the past five years on developing Autopilot, and Cao's action has put Tesla's investment at risk.

The second lawsuit was filed against four former employees and US self-driving car start-up Zoox.

In this case, Tesla alleges that its former employees stole trade secrets and confidential information related to developing logistics, warehousing, and inventory control operations.

It said that Zoox, as well as four employees - Sydney Cooper, Scott Turner, Craig Emigh and Christian Dement - made blatant and deliberate efforts to steal Tesla's trade secrets.

The complaint also alleged that the proprietary Tesla documents stolen were useful to Zoox. At least one of the four employees also used Tesla's confidential data to target and influence other Tesla employees for hiring by Zoox.

According to Tesla lawyers, those employees not only violated their contracts with Tesla but also breached their duties of loyalty.

This is not the first time that Tesla has filed suit against former employees. 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. However, the case was dropped within weeks after both parties reached an agreement.

In June last year, Tesla filed another lawsuit against former employee Martin Tripp, alleging that he stole trade secrets. The suit, which sought compensation of $1 million, was revised in December - with Tesla now seeking $167 million from Tripp.

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