The electric car and autonomous vehicle fields were rocked Thursday after Tesla sued two companies that hired its former employees, accusing the workers of stealing trade secrets on their way out. The lawsuit also reignited discussion of alleged IP theft efforts by Chinese companies. In one of the suits, Tesla accuses its former Autopilot engineer, Guangzhi Cao, of taking source code for the semi-automated driving software to his new employer, China-based Xioapeng Motors, which has an automated driving effort in Silicon Valley run by a former Autopilot manager Junli Gu.
Mr. Cao was highlighted last year in a The Information profile of the Tesla Autopilot team. And if Xiaopeng Motors sounds familiar, that’s because another Xiaopeng employee, who arrived there after working at Apple’s self-driving car unit, was arrested by U.S. authorities and charged criminally last year for allegedly stealing IP from the Apple group.
Tesla also sued the high-profile developer of an electric, autonomous car prototype called Zoox, saying four former Tesla employees had stolen information related to “warehousing, logistics, and inventory control operations.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk years ago expressed anger and concern when employees such as Autopilot manager Marc Wimmershoff left to join Zoox, said one former colleague. But this case is unrelated to self-driving car software.