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Tesla escalates trade secret dispute against Chinese EV-maker Xpeng

Written by Sun Henan Published on 

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Tesla filed a lawsuit against its former employee last year for allegedly stealing trade secrets on behalf of Xpeng.

The dispute between Tesla and Chinese electric vehicle (EV) startup Xpeng Motors over a former Tesla employee accused of stealing trade secrets before joining Xpeng continues to escalate.

In the latest move regarding the allegation, Tesla has asked Guangzhou-based Xpeng to turn over its autonomous-driving source code and images of computer hard drives. In addition, Tesla demanded to have the former employee in question, Cao Guangzhi, available for interview, Bloomberg reported on Saturday.

In March 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao for allegedly stealing trade secrets related to the firm’s autopilot system before submitting his resignation on January 3. The US-based EV maker alleged that before leaving the company, Cao had started copying more than 300,000 autopilot related files and directories to his iCloud account, and later on logged into the company’s intranet to clear his browsing history.

Tesla has also requested to obtain more information from a former Apple employee named Zhang Xiaolang, who was criminally charged with trying to take secrets for a new job in Xpeng. The US giant alleged that both Cao and Zhang have used Apple Airdrop, which Tesla called a “difficult-to-trace” method, to take sensitive files from their US employers, according to Bloomberg.

Xpeng refused Tesla’s latest requests in a statement issued on Saturday, saying that Tesla is “obviously bullying its young competitor,” local media Tencent News reported.

The Chinese startup said that while Xpeng is not a defendant in the suit, it has assisted the investigation extensively during the past year, including providing a digital copy of Cao’s laptop and all the emails that Cao was involved in. However, the latest requests from Tesla shows that the US firm is using the lawsuit to disrupt the business operation of Xpeng, rather than focusing on the case itself, said Xpeng.

The Chinese EV maker also pointed out that, after an internal investigation, it has found no sign that any of Tesla’s source code or confidential files have been sent to Xpeng’s internal system. While he admitted storing Tesla’s source code on his personal computer while he was still working at the US-based firm, Xpeng stated that Cao denied any abuse of Tesla’s intellectual property.

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