Tesla filed a lawsuit against former Chinese employee Guangzhi Cao on Mar 21, claiming the engineer copied the source code for its autopilot technology before taking a job with Chinese self-driving car startup XPeng in January.
As Tesla is in the process of building a vehicle assembly facility in Shanghai, it is now in direct competition with Xpeng in the world’s largest electric vehicle market.
The engineer Cao, a member of Tesla’s Autopilot team, was one of only about 40 people who had access to the software’s source code. Tesla says Cao “abruptly” announced he was leaving the company, and joining XPeng, a company sometimes accused of being a “Tesla clone” because parts of it are allegedly built using Tesla’s open-source patents.
Tesla says that last year, Cao started uploading “complete copies of Tesla’s Autopilot-related source code” to his iCloud account. The company claims he uploaded more than 300,000 files and directories related to autopilot. After accepting a job at XPeng, he then allegedly deleted 120,000 files off his work computer and disconnected his personal iCloud account. After that, he “repeatedly logged into Tesla’s secure networks” to clear his browser history before his last day with the company.
“Absent immediate relief, Tesla believes Cao and his new employer, will continue to have unfettered access to Tesla’s marquee technology, the product of more than five years’ work and over hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, which they have no legal right to possess,” the company’s lawyers write.
In a statement, Xpeng spokeswoman Marie Cheung said the company was not aware of Cao’s alleged misconduct and that the company has started an internal investigation on the matter.
The company “fully respects any third-party’s intellectual property rights and confidential information. The company has been complying and will comply all applicable laws and regulations,” Cheung said in a statement.
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