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Tesla continues to deal with former employees and potential IP theft

(BUSINESS NEWS) Tesla has found itself at the center of numerous lawsuits against former employees and the theft of intellectual property, potentially jeopardizing their industry leadership position.

Tesla logo on a piece of machinery.

Elon Musk has had a lot on his mind in the last few days. He couldn’t resist getting in on the incredibly volatile Gamestop stock saga, announced a $100 million prize in the pursuit of carbon capture technology, thinks you should be using Signal instead of other messaging apps, and has sent other stocks into bullish states with his Twitter account. He’s always at the center of something, and his impact resonates throughout a ton of markets, industries, and the minds of the tech world.

He’s building a new factory in Austin, is about to roll out new trucks, and was even crowned the world’s richest man at the beginning of January. I mean, that’s a lot. A whole lot. That’s a lot squared.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Tesla – the company he is most widely known for – is an intensely scrutinized hotbed of activity, and is working relentlessly to remain at the forefront of automotive technology. This takes a lot of smart people all working on a lot of problems that have never been encountered before, and must be negotiated as quickly as possible to bring automated driving to the masses as a reliable, available technology.

Unfortunately, Tesla’s market leader position is under fire from a lot of competitors – Apple wants in and could bring new cars by 2024, there’s always Waymo, and LIDAR is a new challenger. All of that would be enough to deal with for any CEO, but Musk is also weathering an entirely different set of storms – theft of intellectual property by former employees.

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Right now, Tesla is suing Alex Khatilov, alleging that he stole files related to their Warp Drive software and moved them to his personal Dropbox. According to CNBC, these files concern the “back-end software system that Tesla developed to automate a range of business processes involved in manufacturing and selling its cars.” Khatilov purports that he forgot about moving these files, as shown in the official lawsuit, and that he only found out about such legal proceedings when he was contacted by the New York Post.

This is not the first time Tesla has found itself having to sue employees for potential breaches of its proprietary data.

Martin Tripp was recently ordered to pay a sum of $400,000 to Tesla due to confidential information he leaked to a reporter, while another suit involved Zoox, a startup that was given classified data from when it hired former Tesla employees. And yet, there’s still more cases – Guangzhi Cao uploaded sensitive materials into his iCloud account, and is alleged to have passed it onto a chief competitor (Xiaopeng Motors).

There’s even another case where Tesla sued its own former Autopilot program director Sterling Anderson, believing that he took restricted knowledge to form his own startup. While this case was dropped later on, it still plays into the overall pattern that Tesla repeatedly engages those who may or may not be lifting their knowledge, projects, and code and delivering them to competitors.

In the world of software engineering, employee theft is a common issue that can potentially ruin a company or crush a startup. This isn’t even taking into account the ever-present threat of cybercrime, with hackers and other groups working to steal data and technology for any number of reasons (just for fun, as digital mercenaries, or to gain an edge in competitive industries). IP theft between nations has become a topic of great concern, with the recent United States administration going to great lengths to combat the problem.

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It remains to be seen what will happen with regard to Tesla’s most recent lawsuit, but it is sure to be a volatile and significant event. Corporate espionage continues to become a bigger and costlier problem by the day, and with the rise of new industries at potentially trillions at stake, it’s likely we’ll hear about more cases in the future.

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

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