Tesla Sues Ex-Employee for Theft, Uploading Trade Secrets to iCloud

Tesla alleges that the former employee showed the code to his new employer.
Chris Young

An ex-employee of Tesla's is being accused of having uploaded data from the company's Autopilot feature onto his personal iCloud account before taking it to a Chinese rival company.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Tesla is suing the former employee for unlawfully sharing trade secrets.


The crown jewel of Tesla's IP

As per the court papers, former employee Guangzhi Cao admits to having had the source code uploaded on a personal drive. However, he denies the accusation that he stole trade secrets.

In their complaint, the electric vehicle company counters by saying that Cao worked on the "crown jewel of Tesla's intellectual property portfolio" and that his intention was to bring this information to his new employer, Xiaopeng Motors.

As Engadget reports, Cao was offered a role by Xiaopeng Motors in November 2018, and Tesla says that long before changing positions, Cao started the arduous task of uploading complete copies of the more than 300,000 files and directories of Tesla's Autopilot-related source code. This, the company says, is in direct violation of Tesla's policies and its agreements with the employer.

Tesla Sues Ex-Employee for Theft, Uploading Trade Secrets to iCloud
Tesla Autopilot. Source: Tesla/YouTube

Tesla, Apple, and Xiaopeng Motors

Xiaopeng Motors, a rival electric vehicle company based in China, has a history when it comes to trade secret lawsuits.

Last year, a former Apple employee was charged with stealing a huge amount of data from the company's self-driving car lab in Cupertino, California.

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The employee admitted to stealing hardware and downloading files illegally after having announced his intention to move to Xiaopeng Motors.

While Xiaopeng Motors, also known as XMotors, has not specifically been accused of misconduct — the court papers are aimed squarely at the former employee — Tesla's papers do make a thinly veiled jibe at the company:

"Inspired by and on a mission to beat Tesla, XMotors reportedly designed its vehicles around Tesla's open-source patents and has transparently imitated Tesla's design, technology, and even its business model."

The chairman of the Chinese electric vehicle company, He Xiaopeng, called the lawsuits "questionable," Bloomberg reports. He cites a "flow of talent" as being normal in the industry. 

The electric vehicle company filed the lawsuit on Wednesday in San Francisco federal court.

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