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Tesla points finger at Zoox, XPeng, and former employees in trade secret thievery suits
Tesla filed two lawsuits late on Wednesday against multiple former employees and the self-driving startup Zoox, as well as Xiaopeng Motors for allegedly misappropriating the company’s trade secrets.
The Verge is reporting that the Silicon Valley automaker believes 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.” Tesla says the employees who went to Zoox—Scott Turner, Sydney Cooper, Christian Dement, and Craigh Emigh—“absconded with select proprietary Tesla documents useful to their new employer,” and that at least one used confidential information to poach other employees. Tesla says the group’s alleged theft was “blatant and intentional.” At the core of the suit is what Tesla calls its “WARP” system, a proprietary software platform that collectively manages various 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’s lawyers write. (WARP was described by multiple former employees to CNBC last year as “seemingly never complete,” which made it hard to keep track of budgets.) In a separate case filed this week, Tesla is claiming that a former employee, Guangzhi Cao, stole source code related to the company’s Autopilot driver assistance feature before taking a job at Chinese electric automaker Xiaopeng Motors, or XPeng. According to the Verge, Cao was a member of Tesla’s Autopilot team and one of only about 40 people with access to the software’s source code. Tesla is claiming that Cao “abruptly” announced he was quitting on January 3, and the company later learned he had taken a job with XPeng, a Chinese startup that recently launched its first all-electric SUV. Some have described the SUV as a “Tesla clone” because parts of it are allegedly built using Tesla’s open-source patents. In a statement emailed to The Verge on Thursday, XPeng said, “fully respects any third-party’s intellectual property rights and confidential information,” and that the company has opened an internal investigation into the allegations. XPeng went on to distance the company from any misdeeds by Cao, whether Tesla’s claims are “true or untrue,” and that it “was not aware of any alleged misconduct by Mr. Cao,” nor did the company have any effect on Cao’s actions.
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