Tesla Accuses Former ‘Autopilot’ Manager Of Stealing Company Secrets

Image courtesy of (fCatheroo)

Between safety concerns and a tit-for-tat with a former supplier of parts for its assisted-driving system, Tesla’s Autopilot has been thrust into the spotlight numerous times in the last year. Now, the company is doing battle over the semi-autonomous feature again, this time suing a man who formerly worked as a manager for the division, claiming he stole company secrets to start his own self-driving company. 

The lawsuit [PDF], filed this week in California Superior Court, accuses Sterling Anderson — a former nontechnical program manager for the Autopilot team — of violating his contractual and other obligations to Tesla when he used company time to create his own program.

According to the lawsuit, Anderson, who is now the co-owner of autonomous vehicle startup Aurora, took confidential proprietary information about Tesla’s Autopilot feature, destroyed evidence in an effort to cover his tracks, and attempted to recruit dozens of other employees to join him.

Tesla alleges that Anderson — along with co-defendant and business partner Chris Urmson, a former self-driving director at Google — was on company time, using company property to work on the venture.

During this time, the company claims that Anderson “downloaded hundreds of gigabytes of Tesla confidential and proprietary information” to his personal hard drive.

In order to cover his tracks, after being fired Jan. 4, the suit alleges that Anderson doctored his laptop to manually hack the timestamps on files and erasing others. Additionally, the company claims that while Anderson returned his hardware, he did not return “backups” of “competitively sensitive information” he had regularly created.

Anderson and Urmson also allegedly used their connection to the company — before and after Anderson’s termination — as a way to recruit for their venture, approaching at least a dozen engineers, despite a contract provision that prohibits employee solicitation for 12 months after employment, the suit states.

The lawsuit also accuses Anderson of using a company-issued iPhone to recruit other employees to join his venture. Instead of tampering with that device, he allegedly wiped it altogether.

“Anderson’s blatant efforts to cover his tracks belie any innocent explanation he may attempt to conjure up for his conduct,” the suit states. “No one would attempt to put fake timestamps on files if they were innocent or thought their actions were honest.”

With the lawsuit, Tesla seeks an injunction preventing the two from engaging in further unlawful or unfair business acts directed at Tesla and its employees, and unspecified damages.