The dispute between Tesla Shanghai and a former employee over the infringement of trade secrets will be held in Yangpu District People’s Court of Shanghai on December 14. This case is the first case involving the infringement of Tesla China’s trade secrets in the country; the defendant is a former Tesla senior technology project manager, as shown on their social media platform. The person also worked as a planner for SAIC Volkswagen Automotive Co., Ltd.
This is not the first time Tesla has sued former employees for infringing upon its trade secrets. In 2019, Tesla sued Guangzhi Cao, a former employee, in the United States for allegedly stealing trade secrets related to Autopilot, an advanced driver assistance system developed by the company, and alleged that he delivered Autopilot technology to XPeng Motors. Finally, the case ended with an apology to Tesla issued by Cao.
Recent reports about Tesla’s allegedly refusal to recruit former XPeng employees on Chinese social platforms have caused heated discussions. Many netizens linked Tesla’s refusal with the previous commercial dispute over automated driving between the two companies, and commented that Tesla was protecting itself against XPeng‘s “commercial espionage”.
In fact, the issue was originally posted on a Q&A platform in China which was first published on November 15, 2021. The initiater said that, after working for XPeng, the person applied for a position at Tesla only to be told that former XPeng employees would not be accepted by the company. Many commentors to this question said they have had similar experiences. Another netizen who claimed to be a former salesman of Tesla claimed that this situation would happen, while former employees of other brands such as NIO and Zeekr could be accepted.
However, according to a report by Jiemian News, some former employees of XPeng Motors and Tesla all said that this kind of thing had never happened around them. On October 13, in an interview, Tesla customer service staff responded that there is no such internal regulation and there are no restrictions on previous work experience. If personnel are not accepted or hired, it may be due to other factors.
“Commercial espionage cases” in the automobile industry are not uncommon, and most of them are concentrated in frontier fields such as automated driving. In February 2017, Waymo, a automated driving subsidiary firm of Google, accused Anthony Levandowski, one of its founding members, of stealing 33 trade secrets and using them for Uber’s automated driving. For this, Lewandowski was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Uber paid a fine of $245 million in shares to reach a settlement with Waymo.