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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.

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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.

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.

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".

Business News

This web platform for cannabis is blowing up online distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Dutchie, a website platform for cannabis companies, just octupled in value. Here’s what that means for the online growth of cannabis distribution.

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A small jar of cannabis on a desk with notebooks, sold online in a nicely made jar.

The cannabis industry has, for the most part, blossomed in the past few years, managing to hit only a few major snags along the way. One of those snags is the issue of payment processing, an issue compounded by predominantly cash-only transactions. Dutchie, a Bend, Oregon company, has helped mitigate that issue—and it just raised a ton of money.

Technically, Dutchie is a jack-of-all-trades service that creates and hosts websites for dispensaries, tracks product, processes orders, keeps stock of revenue, and so much more. While it was valued at around $200 million as recently as summer of 2020, a round of series C funding currently puts the company at around $1.7 billion—approximately 8 times its worth a mere 8 months ago.

There are a few reasons behind Dutchie’s newfound momentum. For starters, the pandemic made cannabis products a lot more accessible—and desirable—in states in which the sale of cannabis is legal. The ensuing surge of customers and demand certainly didn’t hurt the platform, especially given that Dutchie is largely responsible for keeping things on track during some of the more chaotic months for dispensaries.

Several states in which the sale of cannabis was illegal also voted to legalize recreational use, giving Dutchie even more stomping ground than they had prior to the lockdown.

Dutchie also recently took on 2 separate companies and their associated employees, effectively doubling their current staff. The companies are Greenbits—a resource planning group—and Leaflogix, which is a point-of-sale platform. With these two additions to their compendium, Dutchie can operate as even more of an all-in-one suite, which absolutely contributes to its value as a company.

Ross Lipson, who is Dutchie’s co-founder and current CEO, is fairly dismissive of investment opportunities for the public at the moment, saying he instead prefers to stay “focused with what’s on our plate” for the time being. However, he also appears open to the possibility of going public via an acquisition company.

“We look at how this decision brings value to the dispensary and the customer,” says Lipson. “If it brings value, we’d embark on that decision.”

For now, Dutchie remains the ipso facto king of cannabis distribution and sales—and they don’t show any plans to slow down any time soon.

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Business News

Ford adopts flexible working from home schedule for over 30k employees

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ford Motor Co. is allowing employees to continue working from home even after the pandemic winds down. Is this the beginning of a trend for auto companies?

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Woman in car working on engineering now allowed a flexible schedule for working from home.

The pandemic has greatly transformed our lives. For the most part, learning is being conducted online. At one point, interacting with others was pretty much non-existent. Working in the office shifted significantly to working remotely, and it seems like working from home might not go away anytime soon.

As things slowly get back to a new “normal”, will things change again? Well, one thing is sure. Working from home will be a permanent thing for some people as more companies opt to continue letting people work remotely.

And, the most recent company on the list to do this is Ford Motor Co. Even after the pandemic winds down, Ford will allow more than 30,000 employees already working from home to continue doing so.

Last week, the automaker giant announced its “flexible hybrid model” schedule to its staff. The new schedule is set to start in the summer, and employees can choose to work remotely and come into the office for tasks that require face-to-face collaborations, such as meetings and group projects.

How much time an employee spends in the office will depend on their responsibilities, and flexible remote hours will need to be approved by an employee’s manager.

“The nature of work drives whether or not you can adopt this model. There are certain jobs that are place-dependent — you need to be in the physical space to do the job,” David Dubensky, chairman and chief executive of Ford Land, told the Washington Post. “Having the flexibility to choose how you work is pretty powerful. … It’s up to the employee to have dialogue and discussion with their people leader to determine what works best.”

Ford’s decision to implement a remote-office work model has to do in part with an employee survey conducted in June 2020. Results from the survey showed that 95% of employees wanted a hybrid schedule. Some employees even reported feeling more productive when working from home.

Ford is the first auto company to allow employees to work from home indefinitely, but it might not be the only one. According to the Post, Toyota and General Motors are looking at flexible options of their own.

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Business News

Unify your remote team with these important conversations

(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.

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Woman working in office with remote team

Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.

According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.

Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.

Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.

With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.

The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.

Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.

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