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

Engineer swiped info before leaving to join Chinese company.

by on Mar.21, 2019

Tesla is now fending off corporate espionage from competitors like Zoox and Xiopeng by filing suits against employees for stealing corporate secrets.

Just days after bragging about the company’s plans in China, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is suing former employees for stealing from the EV maker as they left to join Chinese automakers Zoox and Xiopeng Motors.

The company filed two suits against separate sets of former employees in California. In the case of Zoox, automaker claims that four former employees stole “proprietary information and trade secrets to help Zoox leapfrog past years of work needed to develop and run its own warehousing, logistics, and inventory control operations.”

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Scott Turner, Sydney Cooper, Christian Dement, and Craigh Emigh “absconded with select proprietary Tesla documents useful to their new employer,” according to the filing. Additionally, one of the four used the info to recruit other Tesla employees. 

The employees allegedly stole information related to what Tesla calls its “WARP” system, a proprietary software platform the company built to collectively manage things like manufacturing, warehousing, inventory, distribution, and transportation. “These materials and knowhow were developed by Tesla over many years, and at great expense,” the company said in the suit.

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Turner allegedly recruited Cooper and Dement using the information he stole. Later Emigh was recruited to Zoox in a similar manner. After Emigh joined Zoox, he accidently sent an email to Cooper’s old Tesla address, with a modified version of a proprietary Tesla document attached.

The document was “freshly-emblazoned with the Zoox logo,” Tesla says in the suit, but it still featured hallmarks of the original version, which the automaker says shows “without doubt, that the Defendants are actively using the Tesla information they stole.”

In terms of Xiopeng, or Xpeng Motors, it marks the second time it has had an employee sued for stealing corporate documents. Last time it was a former member of Apple’s Project Titan team. This time, Tesla sued Ghuangzhi Cao for copying more than 300,000 files about the Autopilot source code.

Tesla Inc filed a lawsuit on Thursday against a former engineer at the company, claiming he copied the source code for its Autopilot technology before joining a Chinese self-driving car startup in January.

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The engineer, Guangzhi Cao, copied more than 300,000 files related to Autopilot source code as he prepared to join China’s Xiaopeng Motors Technology Company Ltd, the Silicon Valley carmaker said in the lawsuit filed in a California court.

After accepting a job with Xiopeng, Tesla claims Cao deleted 120,000 files off his work computer and disconnected his personal iCloud account, and then “repeatedly logged into Tesla’s secure networks” to clear his browser history before his last day with the company. Tesla also claims Cao recruited another Autopilot employee to the Chinese automaker in February.

Xiaopeng debuted an electric car in Las Vegas last year and its often called a “Tesla clone” because it uses so many of the company’s open source patents to build its vehicles. It’s also noteworthy because it counts Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Foxconn Technology Co. Ltd. among its investors.

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Tesla is building a vehicle assembly facility in Shanghai, making it a target for Xiaopeng, Zoox and other Chinese companies fighting for sales in the world’s largest automotive market. Cao joined Xiopeng in January.

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One Response to “Tesla Sues Former Employees for Theft of Autopilot Code, Trade Secrets”

  1. If that case, tesla car company in China will be compromised unless they will pay the ROYALTY FEE to Elon Musk.