Chinese EV startup Xpeng accuses Tesla of ‘bullying’ amid trade secrets suit

A Tesla car is seen in Santa Monica, California, United States, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Chinese electric car startup Xpeng Motors accused Tesla Inc. of using a “fishing expedition” to “bully” the younger competitor, firing the latest legal salvo in the companies’ ongoing battle over alleged intellectual property theft.

Tesla earlier this year asked a U.S. federal judge to grant it access to Xpeng’s company files — including those on the company chairman’s own computer — as part of its yearlong law suit against an engineer who departed the U.S. giant in January 2019 and returned to China two months later to work for the Guangzhou-based carmaker.

Tesla alleges Guangzhi Cao didn’t just take his knowledge and experience but more than 300,000 files of secret source code for the Silicon Valley startup’s driver assistance project “Autopilot,” which Tesla claims he shared with Xpeng.

Cao has admitted to downloading Tesla material while working there, but said he did so for use in his remote office and that the practice was not unusual. He said he had “diligently and earnestly attempted to remove any and all Tesla intellectual property and source code from his own personal devices” prior to leaving the company.

In January, Tesla asked a federal judge in California to extend the scope of its investigation by granting it access to Xpeng’s autonomous vehicle-related source code, alongside complete copies of employee hard drives including those of the company’s founder He Xiaopeng.

In a filing with the California court Saturday, Xpeng said it “never disputed” Tesla’s claim that Cao downloaded its material while employed there and before he joined the Chinese startup, but denied that indicated any wrongdoing by Xpeng.

“After months of litigation, Tesla has failed to show any credible evidence that XMotors ever possessed, let alone used, any Tesla information from Dr. Cao,” Xpeng said in a Friday statement.

In its suit against Cao, which names Xpeng as a third party, Tesla alleges the Chinese startup “reportedly designed its vehicles around Tesla’s open-source patents and has transparently imitated Tesla’s design, technology and even its business model.” The Silicon Valley tech giant said Xpeng had introduced “Autopilot-like” features and employs at least five of Tesla’s former Autopilot employees, including Cao.

The U.S. District Court of Northern California in San Jose will convene May 7 to decide whether to compel Xpeng to hand over the materials.

This article was first published on Caixin Global.

Singapore Reporter/s

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Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.