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Tesla Files Lawsuit Against Aurora Innovation

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【Summary】Tesla is suing the founders of engineering firm Aurora Innovation for allegedly stealing company secrets.

Original Aaron Phillips    Feb 02, 2017 8:10 AM PT
Tesla Files Lawsuit Against Aurora Innovation

According to details released earlier this week, Tesla has filed a lawsuit against a former employee, his partner, and their company Aurora Innovation for allegedly trying to poach engineers and steal some of the Tesla's biggest secrets.

One of the three plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, Sterling Anderson, worked for Tesla during the crucial years when the next-gen car manufacturer was developing its Autopilot software. As director of the Autopilot team, Anderson was in a unique position to access gigabytes of useful data generated by Autopilot-equipped cars.

In the lawsuit filed by Tesla, it is alleged that Anderson stole company secrets, and then destroyed evidence to cover up the theft. The lawsuit also alleges that Anderson tried to hire a team of 12 Tesla engineers, in breach of a signed non-solicitation agreement.

Former Google Engineer Allegedly Involved

In addition to Anderson, the lawsuit also names former Google engineer Chris Urmson as a defendant. Urmson was the technical lead of Google's own self-driving car program. 

Tesla alleges that Urmson and Aurora Innovation knew of Anderson's data theft, as well as the attempt to recruit Tesla engineers, and were complicit in the breach of contract. They also alleged that Urmson and Anderson worked together in an attempt to hide their breach.

In their own words, "Using Anderson's specialized knowledge of his colleagues' skillsets and performance, Urmson set out to pursue engineers identified by Anderson at Tesla, and Anderson began pursuing engineers identified by Urmson at Google."

"Working through Urmson as his proxy, Anderson targeted and recruited numerous Tesla employees to join Aurora.Through a series of text messages, phonecalls [sic], and in-person meetings, Anderson and Urmson solicited many of Anderson's Tesla colleagues for their competing venture."

Although there has been no filings between Google and Urmson at the time, if what Tesla alleges is true, there is some speculation that another lawsuit could be in the works.

Gigabytes of Test Data Reportedly Stolen

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The other major charge that Tesla is levelling against Anderson and Urmson is the theft of thousands of log files regarding Tesla's Autopilot program. Autopilot is at the heart of Tesla's self-driving car initiative.

If true, that would give Aurora Innovation a huge competitive edge over other engineering firms. Tesla's Autopilot data is essentially priceless, because no other company to date has been able to deploy so many semi-autonomous cars.

Real-world data is hard to come by, and major automakers are spending millions of dollars in an attempt to collect the same sort of data on test tracks and controlled outings across the country.

It's alleged that Anderson stole gigabytes worth of test data in order to give his own company's self-driving algorithms a kickstart.

If these allegations are proven true, the monetary damage done to Aurora Innovation and its founders could be huge.

Tesla alleges the data theft and attempt to recruit its engineers was an act of malice that has damaged the company, and is seeking "exemplary and punitive damages" in an amount that it wants determined at trial.

To date, the defendants haven't offered any comment on the lawsuit.

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