Tesla is raining down one of its former employees Sterling Anderson, who led the AutoPilot team for over a year. The electric automaker is suing Anderson and his partner in crime Chris Urmson, the former Director of Google’s self-driving project for breaching his employment contract and setting up a rival self-driving startup by allegedly poaching their personnel and information.
The lawsuit has been filed by Tesla in California state court in Santa Clara. The complaint alleges Anderson and Urmson of working together to set up a new autonomous vehicle startup called Aurora Innovation. But there’s nothing wrong about starting your own venture, or is it?
Well, Tesla believes that the groundwork for the said venture is being laid on the technology and talent acquired by the duo from Tesla. The company says that Anderson breached his employment contract when he tried to recruit over a dozen engineers from them. Further, there is also the concern that he downloaded “hundreds of gigabytes” of proprietary and confidential data to a personal hard drive. He then also altered the timestamps of all these files and changed them to a later date to make the acquisition seem real.
And that’s not it. The duo started Aurora while they were still employed at their respective tech behemoths. Urmson was leading the Waymo team as the CTO at Google whereas Anderson was the VP of the semi-autonomous AutoPilot team. He even went as far as to wipe all data on his iPhone and laptop provided by Tesla, to erase evidence of his attempts to poach fellow employees.
Talking about the same, the company said in the lawsuit,
Tesla cannot sit idly by when an employee like Anderson abuses his position of trust and orchestrates a scheme to deliberately and repeatedly violate his non-solicit agreement, hide evidence, and take the company’s confidential and proprietary information for use in a competing venture.
The complaint filed by the automaker also suggests that Anderson was working on his side project “on Tesla time, using his Tesla company laptop, and on Tesla’s premises.” Tesla says that there has also been a time when he took his Tesla devices to Urmson’s home to discuss the recruitment of individuals from the automaker. But, they were unable to poach all the individuals they intended to. Only a mere two people were convinced enough to join their new venture.
Further, Tesla suggests that Anderson had a non-solicitation contract with them and it extended twelve months from his date of departure. And acting like he did, running away with confidential information and trying to poach employees, Tesla couldn’t sit on their hands all day. They haven’t filed this lawsuit lightly but as a warning. Though it is generally supportive of the passions and ambitions of its employees but stealing from them and working on the same technology is uninvited.
The company is now looking to seeking damages for the losses it suffered due to Anderson’s actions. In the lawsuit filed, Tesla is also asking for ‘punitive’ damages against the malicious acts conducted by Anderson during his time at the firm. It is also filing for an injunction against Aurora’s technologies — developed using Tesla’s proprietary tech without their permission.
In a statement provided to TechCrunch, an Aurora spokesperson says,
Tesla’s meritless lawsuit reveals both a startling paranoia and an unhealthy fear of competition. This abuse of the legal system is a malicious attempt to stifle a competitor and destroy personal reputations. Aurora looks forward to disproving these false allegations in court and to building a successful self-driving business.
This lawsuit could, however, serve as a major setback for the self-driving vehicle ecosystem. While a majority of ventures are currently trying to develop their technology and start road tests of their vehicles, there is already a rift being caused between this limited set. The technology is expected to become ubiquituous in the coming years and there will be numerous other such cases as well.