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Tesla Sues Former Autopilot Executive For Allegedly Stealing Secrets, Poaching Coworkers ( 47

Tesla has filed a lawsuit Thursday against its former director of Autopilot Programs, Sterling Anderson, for breach of contract. The company alleges Anderson took proprietary information about the Autopilot program and recruited fellow Tesla employees to work with him at another autonomous driving company. In addition, the lawsuit names the former head of Google's autonomous car project, Chris Urmson, as a defendant, and alleges both executives were attempting to start a company together, called Aurora. CNBC reports: According to TechCrunch, Anderson had acted as Tesla's director of Autopilot Programs for a little over a year. Tesla alleges that Anderson, while still a Tesla employee, pulled "hundreds of gigabytes" of proprietary data from company computers, and installed it on a personal hard drive. Tesla also alleges that Anderson tried to hide his tracks by wiping phones, deleting browser histories, permanently erasing computer files, and even manipulating time stamps on related files, "in an apparent effort to obscure the dates on which they had last been modified or accessed." Tesla also alleges the pair attempted to poach at least 12 other Tesla employees, though they only successfully recruited two. "Automakers have created a get-rich-quick environment. Small teams of programmers with little more than demoware have been bought for as much as a billion dollars. Cruise Automation, a 40-person firm, was purchased by General Motors in July 2016 for nearly $1 billion. In August 2016, Uber acquired Otto, another self-driving startup that had been founded only seven months earlier, in a deal worth more than $680 million," the company said in the suit.
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Tesla Sues Former Autopilot Executive For Allegedly Stealing Secrets, Poaching Coworkers

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  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @07:26PM (#53745565)
    it works when the lawyers know the money is there.
  • by BigBuckHunter ( 722855 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @07:36PM (#53745631)
    IFF these are true, it would be nice to Tesla prevail. I fully expected Tesla to be a Tucker repeat, and it's nice to see that they stand a chance of succeeding despite numerous forces working against them.
  • Poaching? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by djinn6 ( 1868030 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @07:48PM (#53745695)
    Since when is offering someone a higher salary a bad thing? Non-compete clauses are anti-competitive, anti-free-market, and they should be illegal, especially when you're talking about an at-will state like CA, where Tesla has 0 responsibility to keep their employees employed.

    Just goes to show how even the "good" companies think they own their workers.
    • Non compete agreements were ruled illegal a few years back in CA. "Poaching" is not a crime unless you're actually killing the employees.

    • Re:Poaching? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Imrik ( 148191 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @08:34PM (#53745897) Homepage

      The problem isn't having them work for a new company, it's hiring them specifically because they were Tesla employees with inside knowledge of Tesla's software and contacts.

      • by AaronW ( 33736 )

        Add to that the copying and stealing a lot of intellectual property. Taking some people with him he could probably get away with due to the non-compete clause, though transferring any proprietary information would be covered by an NDA, and stealing the source code will get you in a lot of trouble.

        If they had started the new company by building their IP from scratch that would be less of an issue.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You may think that's a "problem", but in point of fact it isn't.

        Yes, GM employees can go to work for Ford and remain engineers.

        Non-compete agreements of questionable enforcability and/or walking off with code is a different issue. As far as what you've stated, though, there is no issue, ethical or legal.

    • by Luthair ( 847766 )
      I'm reminded of Chris Rock - 90% of people in this room got a job because their friend recommended them.
    • Non-compete clauses ARE illegal in California. There's a very narrow exception that allows for non-competes to be valid for senior executives holding lots of stock in companies that are aquired. But for the rank and file? Go ahead and cut out that part of your contract and wipe your ass with it. That's all it's good for. Anti-poaching clauses are also illegal. No less than Apple and Google were recently bitchslapped over the issue fairly recently.

      Musk is not going to win here.

    • Re:Poaching? (Score:5, Informative)

      by chispito ( 1870390 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @09:05PM (#53746045)

      Just goes to show how even the "good" companies think they own their workers.

      The "poached" part in the lawsuit seems to indicate that he did the recruiting while still working for Tesla. From the lawsuit, linked in the summary

      Anderson collaborated with Urmson on their competing venture on Tesla time, using his Tesla company laptop, and on Tesla's premises.

      I suspect it's designed to strengthen the case. The theft of proprietary tech is the main allegation.

  • Kind of amusing... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @07:50PM (#53745717) Tesla is busy poaching Apple's former self-driving car staff...

    • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

      poaching Apple's former self-driving car staff...

      If they're former staff, then by definition it's not poaching, no? Yes, I'm too lazy to read the article, but I doubt Tesla is suing over people who used to work at Tesla now being recruited to work at other companies.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As I recall in 1996 there was a criminal prosecution of a high level employee for sealing trade secrets from Borland to Symantic. Eventually the case was thrown out (it didn't pass the laugh test) and the Santa Clara prosecutor, who had a cozy relationship with Borland destroyed his career. There was an associated civil suit as well but I believe it also collapsed. Typically California courts take a dim view of attempts to stifle startups with harassment suits but of course I don't know the specific facts i

  • After this scheme called AI is this hustle played by the gajillionaires called autopilot. This came right after other failed schemes like "cold fusion" "time travel" "ninja blender" "3D TV" "MacBook Pro upgrade" "headphone jack" "facebook"

  • Remember when there were Movies about "possessed" cars that ran over people... I think things just got real here. (Will the lawyers in line have to take a number??)

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI