Tesla lawsuits accuse ex-employees of stealing secrets before leaving for rivals

Tesla Inc. filed two lawsuits in as many days against former employees who left to join start-ups in China and Silicon Valley, accusing them of stealing confidential information.

On Thursday, Elon Musk-led Tesla alleged that Guangzhi Cao, a former engineer on its Autopilot team, uploaded more than 300,000 files and directories, as well as copies of source code, to his personal cloud storage account before quitting the company Jan. 3.

Tesla claims Cao didn’t return what it called highly confidential information before joining Xiaopeng Motors Technology Co., also known as XMotors, which is pursuing both electric-vehicle and self-driving technology. Tesla referred to its Autopilot driver-assistance system as having “industry-leading” features and called the technology “a crown jewel” of its intellectual property portfolio. The complaint doesn’t name XMotors as a defendant.

In a separate suit filed Wednesday, Tesla claimed former employees who worked in warehouse and distribution center management at parts distribution centers took information and trade secrets with them to Zoox Inc. to help the company “leapfrog past years of work needed to develop and run its own warehousing, logistics, and inventory control operations.”

Tesla says the four employees, who worked in Newark, Calif., and Bethlehem, Pa., violated their employment contracts when they forwarded confidential information to their personal email accounts. A representatives for Zoox, which is the first defendant named in the suit, declined to comment.


Tesla representatives declined to comment on the lawsuits.

The Tesla lawsuit against Cao has similarities to a case against a former Apple Inc. engineer who left that company to join XMotors. Zhang Xiaolang was arrested in July, just before boarding a flight to China, and charged with stealing proprietary information related to Apple’s self-driving car project. He has pleaded not guilty.