Sat, Mar 23, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Tesla joins Apple in Xpeng trade secret cases

‘CROWN JEWEL’:The Chinese firm is not named in either lawsuit, the latest of which accuses a former Tesla employee of stealing files and source code on autopilot tech

Bloomberg

Tesla Inc accused one of its former engineers of stealing highly confidential autopilot information before bolting to Chinese rival Xpeng Motors (小鵬汽車), eight months after one of Apple Inc’s former employees was charged with taking sensitive robocar secrets to a new job with the same company.

Allegations that a second Silicon Valley giant was betrayed by one of its own workers bound for the same Chinese start-up come amid a major US crackdown on Chinese corporate espionage.

The rivalry in the electric-car market, with hundreds of billions of US dollars at stake, has intensified with the two nations locked in a trade dispute.

Xpeng — which has not been accused of wrongdoing by Apple or Tesla — said it plays by the rules and denied having any part in the alleged misconduct by the engineers.

Chairman He Xiaopeng (何小鵬) yesterday in a WeChat post called the lawsuit “questionable,” adding that Xpeng and Tesla are innovators and the “flow of talent” between companies is normal.

“I firmly believe that only through independent research and development can we make good products suitable for China,” He said.

Xpeng, which is backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴) and Foxconn Technology Group (富士康), has a valuation of about US$3.65 billion, according to venture capital database CB Insights.

In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in San Francisco federal court, Tesla accused Cao Guangzhi (曹光植), a former engineer on its autopilot team, of uploading more than 300,000 files and directories, as well as copies of source code, to his personal cloud storage account before abruptly quitting the company on Jan. 3.

Tesla claims that Cao did not tell his colleagues at the time that he had accepted a job at Xpeng.

In the complaint, 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.

Xpeng is not named as a defendant in the complaint.

The Guangzhou-based firm’s US research arm, XMotors.ai, said in a statement that it “respects any third party’s intellectual property rights and confidential information.”

XMotors said it has initiated an internal investigation, but was not aware of any wrongdoing by Cao, who it described as a current employee.

“XMotors has by no means caused or attempted to cause Mr Cao to misappropriate trade secrets, confidential and proprietary information of Tesla,” the company said.

While Cao is being sued, a former hardware engineer for Apple’s autonomous vehicle development team who went to work for Xpeng is facing criminal charges brought by the US Department of Justice, while another Apple hardware engineer was charged by the US in January with stealing the iPhone maker’s driverless vehicle secrets.

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