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Tesla Suits Claim Ex-Employees Stole Secrets, Left for Rivals

March 21, 2019
Tesla Inc. filed two lawsuits in as many days against former employees who left to join startups in Silicon Valley and China, accusing them of stealing confidential information before they left.

On March 21, Tesla claimed Guangzhi Cao, a former engineer on its Autopilot team, uploaded more than 300,000 files and directories, as well as copies of source code, to his personal cloud storage account before quitting the company on Jan. 3.

Tesla claims Cao didn’t return what it called highly confidential information before joining Xiaopeng Motors Technology Co., also known as XMotors, which is pursuing both electric-vehicle and self-driving technology. Tesla referred to its Autopilot driver-assistance system as having “industry-leading” features and called the technology “a crown jewel” of its intellectual property portfolio. The complaint doesn’t name XMotors as a defendant.

In a separate suit filed on March 20, Tesla claimed former employees who worked in warehouse and distribution center management at parts distribution centers took information and trade secrets with them to Zoox Inc. to help the company “leapfrog past years of work needed to develop and run its own warehousing, logistics, and inventory control operations.”

Tesla says the four employees, who worked in Newark, California, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, violated their employment contracts when they forwarded confidential information to their personal email accounts. A representative for Zoox, which is the first defendant named in the suit, declined to comment.

Tesla representatives declined to comment on the lawsuits.

The Tesla lawsuit against Cao is the second involving an engineer who’s left a high-profile U.S. technology company that develops autonomous vehicles and allegedly stolen trade secrets before joining XMotors. A former Apple Inc. engineer pleaded not guilty in July in a San Jose, California, federal court after being arrested just before boarding a flight to China to work for the Guangzhou-based company.

By Dana Hull

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