Tesla is currently suing a former Autopilot engineer who they claim stole the source code of the autonomous driving system for a Chinese competitor, Xpeng.
Now the former employee has admitted to uploading the Autopilot source code to his iCloud at a suspicious time in his move to Xpeng, but he denies misconduct.
We published a report last year about how Xpeng, also known as Xiaopeng Motors, was building a vehicle heavily inspired by Tesla to the point that some were calling it a “Tesla clone.”
Henry Xia, who founded the startup in 2014, admitted openly that he was influenced by Tesla and by the automaker’s announcement that they were open-sourcing their patents.
But they went a little further than simply using patents and they even ripped off the Autopilot user interface displayed in the instrument cluster for their electric SUV:
Now, those kinds of similarities take a new meaning as Tesla claims that one of its former Autopilot employees, Guangzhi Cao, stole the source code for Xpeng.
Tesla made the claim in a lawsuit filed against Cao earlier this year.
This week, Cao’s attorney filed a response embedded below and first reported by The Verge.
In the response, the engineer admits that he uploaded some of Tesla’s Autopilot source-code to his personal account before leaving Tesla:
“Mr. Cao admits, during his employment at Tesla, he uploaded Tesla files to his personal iCloud account and that he created zip files of Tesla’s Autopilot-related source code, but otherwise denies the allegations in Paragraph 3 of the Complaint.”
However, he claims that he had no intention of using the intellectual property to leverage a job offer at Xpeng, which he received weeks later.
Tesla asked Apple for help since the file were uploaded to the engineer’s iCloud account.
For its part, Xpeng claims that if there was any wrongdoing on Cao’s part, they weren’t aware of it and they claim to “respects any third-party’s intellectual property rights and confidential information.”
Cao claims that he never did anything with Tesla’s Autopilot source code and if it was on his personal computer in the first place, it was “due to inadvertence.”
He claims that he made efforts to delete the files from his computer:
“This is a lawsuit about routine employee offboarding issues that could and should have been resolved by Tesla either through its own human resources or information technology policies. Despite the vague innuendo in Tesla’s complaint (and in its recitation of the ‘facts’ above) that its trade secrets are ‘at risk’ and that Tesla ‘must learn what Cao has done with Tesla’s IP,’ the truth of this case is that Cao has done precisely nothing with Tesla’s IP. Prior to his departure from Tesla, Cao diligently and earnestly attempted to remove any and all Tesla intellectual property and source code from his own personal devices.”
Here’s the new lawsuit filing in full:
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