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Nikola (Motors) is Suing Tesla ( 187

An anonymous reader shares a report: Nikola Tesla invented alternating electrical current. Nikola Motors is a mobility company working on a hydrogen-powered semi truck. Tesla makes fully electric vehicles and last December unveiled its EV Semi. Nikola Motors is suing Tesla Motors over patent infringements, according to Electrek. Nikola alleges that Tesla infringes on three of its patents: fuselage design, a wraparound windshield on a semi truck and a mid-entry door. Nikola claims that these design similarities have "caused confusion" among customers and stolen away over $2 billion in business, and that if problems arise with Tesla's Semi (like battery fires or glitches with autonomous driving), they'll be attributed to Nikola. Typical patent troll stuff.
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Nikola (Motors) is Suing Tesla

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  • Patent Trolls (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @01:07PM (#56542198)

    I'm not sure what the laws on the books are for frivolous patent troll lawsuits, but it would be really beneficial to society if frivolous patent law suits were heavily discouraged by huge fines to the troll perpetrating them.

    There is obviously a valid and just use for patents; but there is so much abuse of the system it is ludicrous.

    • Re:Patent Trolls (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @01:21PM (#56542292)

      Loosing party pays for civil suits would fix this quick.

      It would stop ambulance chasing PE lawyers and those chasing medical malpractice suits too.

      Loosing party pays, means that if you file and lose your lawsuit, you get to pay the winner's legal fees, along with any ordered compensation for damages. It also means that if you win, your legal fees are repaid.

      Of course, the legal profession in this country soundly opposes this idea, so it's not happening.

      • Re:Patent Trolls (Score:5, Interesting)

        by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @02:06PM (#56542642) Journal

        Looser pays as blanket rule places to much risk on "little people" being able to sue the well to do.

        Joe SixPack highers a perfectly competent but not rock star attorney who charges reasonable rates. Wants to sue oh lets say for fun Donald John Trump Development Corporation. Lets also suppose its a legitimate not so clear cut legal question or contract dispute. DJTDC has a fixed legal staff with time on their hands and every incentive to make the case take as long as possible and explore ever legal avenue and option no matter how absurd; you think its fair to stick Joe with ALL of those costs no matter what unless he wins?

        Sure frivolous suits are frivolous, which is why you can counter sue for Barratry and recover your costs and in some localities a judge may simple rule the loser should pay court costs if he/she feels the case was without merit. The system as fair as far as civil suits go. There are problems with patent law for sure but don't assume the rest of the legal system is as broken or a lot of really smart people have not already considered the options, and set things up the way they did for solid reasons.

        • Re:Patent Trolls (Score:4, Interesting)

          by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @02:17PM (#56542718) Journal

          "Loser pays" doesn't have to be set up that "Rock Star" attorneys are paid their full rates. In fact, in the UK, where this exists, I think it happens some times that the loser only has to pay legal aid rates.

          Also, the definition of "loser" isn't so simple as one might think. In the UK, if the defendant offers to settle the case for a certain amount of money and actually pays this money into escrow, then the loser is defined by whether the judge awarded an amount that was larger or smaller than the settlement offer.

          • In the UK, costs are awarded by the judge - its not automatic, its a judgement call as to whether they are awarded at all, to whom they are awarded and to what extent they are awarded.

            There are numerous cases of the party that brought the case being made to pay the full costs, even when they won.

            The legal system in the UK is a lot fairer in this regard than the US system.

          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            People also forget corporation tend to go nuts suing hundreds of people. So lose one case, wham, lose them all and pay for all those court costs, so loser pays makes sound legal and moral sense. How those patents got approved is another thing. Clearly corporations should be able to sue the USPTO for allowing bogus patents through the system, if they can prove the patent should not have been approved, the USPTO should pay, for all associated costs of proving that patent invalid.

      • Strange,
        you want to tell me the losing party does not pay for the law suit in the US?

        • Nope... Legal fees (What you pay your lawyer and his staff) are your expense in the USA.

          For instance, my daughter had an injury from a car accident that wasn't her fault. Her injury will result in life time impairment of her dominate hand. She will get somewhere north of 60K in the settlement and if we hire a lawyer, they will take 1/3 to 1/2 of the money. We don't get to ask the insurance company for the 20k to 30k in legal fees they will take and get a settlement for 80-100 K just because we decided to

          • Well,
            in Germany the guy losing the case would pay all fees.
            And the fees are determined on "the value of the case", so a lawyer would never get more than about 7k or so from a 60k case.
            It is in most european countries similar, but I don't know the details.

            So the american law system makes it easy that 'poor' people never get their right ...

            • Yea, that horrible legal system in the USA.. Worst possible system I can imagine, except for every other system man has invented and tried. Maybe we can make it better with some tweaks? Maybe not....

              I had a lawyer tell me once that only the lawyers usually win in a lawsuit. I think he was one of the few honest lawyers, well he was honest with his client (me)at least. In my experience, having been involved in a number of civil cases of various types, I can attest that pretty much only the lawyers are gua

    • Re:Patent Trolls (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SlaveToTheGrind ( 546262 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @01:35PM (#56542418)

      The term "patent troll" typically describes a patentholder who is not actually practicing the patent but simply trying to monetize it.

      Nikola has been actively developing its electric and hydrogen powered semi trucks for several years now and is targeting its first commercial sales next year. The complaint [] alleges that Tesla first tried to poach Nikola's chief design engineer, and then simply copied Nikola's patented design.

      That doesn't strike me as being even close to a typical "patent troll" scenario.

      • Re:Patent Trolls (Score:5, Informative)

        by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2018 @02:17PM (#56542720)

        These are design patents, basically how the truck looks.

        There are only so many ways you can shape a semi-truck that accommodates the wind pressures in the most effective way. Look around at any modern (built in the last decade) truck, they all look the same for a reason.

        Personally having looked at the Tesla and Nicola pictures I think the trucks don't look anything alike when you account for the things that have to be the same (which also match all the diesel trucks being built right now).

        If Nicola's design patents cover these items they are covering design elements that have been in use for decades on all the other trucks out there and will clearly be invalid. If they cover the unique design elements that make their design different than every other truck on the road out there I see little similarity between Nicola and Tesla.

        Ultimately the company is upset for two reasons, poaching employees (whaaaaa, baby want a bottle), and the fact that Tesla is stealing all the big clients with a big rig that's better designed, isn't tied to Hydrogen and will be cheaper to run and operate using known and proven technology. Nicola on the other hand has a truck that can only be refueled in 3 places, has fuel costs that are higher than diesel, is using fuel cells with unknown life spans and who knows what maintenance costs.

        They're upset they picked the wrong horse with hydrogen and want to stop Tesla so they can try to get more sales. It's just marketing by lawyer and I hope Tesla stomps them in court.

        • Nikola Motors should be worried about prior-art claims, given examples, like the MAN Concept S [] that was exhibited at the IAA show in Hanover in 2010; both the Nikola and Tesla designs look significantly derivative of MAN's work. And that was just from a casual Google search. If there wasn't so much prior art out there already, I'd patent 'filing lawsuits for outrageous damages using questionable patents to attempt to extract funding from competitor or cripple them as a competitor' as a business-model patent

        • Personally having looked at the Tesla and Nicola pictures I think the trucks don't look anything alike when you account for the things that have to be the same

          Personally I think they look incredibly similar. Personally I also think they are nothing more of a natural progression of the current offerings. E.g. think Volvo VNL with rounded edges.

          Prior art should be findable in pretty much every futuristic movie or drawing.

        • If Nicola's design patents cover these items they are covering design elements that have been in use for decades on all the other trucks out there and will clearly be invalid. If they cover the unique design elements that make their design different than every other truck on the road out there I see little similarity between Nicola and Tesla.

          No need to speculate -- the patents and the features they allegedly cover are all described in detail in the complaint I linked to above. Would you put, for example, the wraparound windshield in the "have been in use for decades on all the other trucks out there" bucket, or the "unique design element that make their design different than every other truck on the road out there" bucket?

          • I don't think that's the definition of prior art.

          • Look at pictures of the two trucks. The Tesla clearly has pillars between the side windows and windshield, they are just black and glossy to make them look more like glass.

            The Nicola design wraps the glass around onto the side then has the pillar a foot back from the windshield.

            In this case and all the other claims the Tesla and the Nicola look nothing alike. They are both an evolution of the standard truck designs from the last 10 years. Both trucks look more like some concept designs from 20 years ago tha

            • Two things it occurs to me I forgot to mention.

              First the biggest reason the two trucks are somewhat similar is that neither has to support installation of a 12 cylinder diesel engine. As a result the truck's don't need the extended engine compartment and have a flatter profile like the older trucks where the drive was on top of the engine rather than behind it. This is purely a functional aspect that's the result of using an electric motor for drive.

              The second is the design patent you cited about the wrap a

      • The complaint [] alleges that Tesla first tried to poach Nikola's chief design enginee

        Restricting "poaching" is restraint of trade. A lot of high-buck tech companies in California had their wrists lightly slapped for non-poaching agreements. It also has absolutely nothing legally to do with patents.

    • At least now we know that "Nikola Motors" is neither now - nor will it ever be - a manufacturer of actual vehicles.

    • Maybe this was a valid patent? I totally dislike our "anonymous reader" adding such blatant editorializing on the last line, and that the editor did not remove it is a sad thing. Let the readers decide on their own if it's patent abuse or now, and just present the facts. We have enough media out there already that is editorializing and calling it news, we don't need to replicate this everywhere.

    • In our sad reality its cheaper to hire Columbian assassin to kill every current and replacement lawyers working for the patent troll in the span of next couple of years than paying for your own competent legat team and fighting a court battle.

      Im really surprised we havent yet heard about patent troll law firms going dark/dead.

  • According to Nikola, Tesla's truck is an impossible scam that will never work. So why bother suing a product that supposedly will never come to market?

  • Not a troll (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The patents may or may not be valid, but it is wrong to call Nikola a "patent troll". Patent trolls produce no product and are only a scam to collect money thru the courts. Nikola definitely has a business in this market segment. Please update the post and remove this line.

    • by Socguy ( 933973 )
      Nikola has produced tons of hype but have they actually produced a production prototype yet that can be validated? They claim that they are going to build a factory but have they started construction yet? One really has to wonder if they have anything to sell. Also, you're wrong that a company cannot be a patent troll if they have any kind of product. SCO comes to mind....
  • Are these design patents? The Blue Jeans Cable case [] comes to mind here. I suppose they look similar, but how many ways are there to style a semi-truck?

    • They ARE design patents. Yes, they look similar. The question is going to be 'how similar'. Personally, I think they look like 'future trucks' from 1960's comic books.

      • by hawk ( 1151 )

        Actually they're both clearly derived from stormtrooper helmets.

        And Lucasfilm now has the Disney Lawyer Horde at it's beck and call . . .


      • I wonder how truck companies deal with this today. If I put a Mack and a Peterson truck side-by-side, I would imagine that very few people could tell the difference without looking at the name badge. I don't recall hearing about Nicola before today. Sounds like they are jealous of Tesla, and figure any publicity is good publicity.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Are these design patents? The Blue Jeans Cable case comes to mind here.

      Why not reference everyone's favorite rounded corner patent case? (Because that also was a design patent).

      Though, one thing with design patents is they are generally checklists - if your item has everything in the checklist, it's violating the patent. If you change one thing so it's similar, but not covered by the patent, it's no longer violating.

      Hence, rounded corners with a grid of icons for a display with said grid featuring a row of

  • Well, I wish Elon would take on these patent trolls like he did the auto dealerships.
  • Nikola claims that these design similarities have "caused confusion" among customers and stolen away over $2 billion in business,

    Doesn't one say "Tesla" and the other "Nikola" on the sides and grilles?

  • I thought the plaintiff is only considered a troll if they have no products using the patented feature or design. From the summary, it sounds like Nikola does use these things. It also sounds as if they might design patents, but that's not pertinent to the question of troll.

  • Yeah, driving around I've seen all these different but somewhat identical electric semi's and I've been all confused as to who was making them... oh wait... Neither of these companies are actually producing an actual vehicle.

    This sounds like trolling of the worst and banal kind.
  • I looked at both and they both look like Star Wars Storm Trooper helmets. Both companies are going to lose their design patents to Disney.
  • Nothing rises to the level of a utility patent with regard to door placement, windscreen curvature, bodyside skirting on a vehicle. At best they will resort to design patentability. Even then body skirts are prior works known in the trade and obvious to the craft in all three embodiments.

    BUT its fabulous exposure and marketing may be able to be patented trading on naming conventions for protection arguing that obvious commonalities are confusing in the marketplace if not the USPTO

  • This is a strange allegation. One could argue that by naming their company "Nikola", it's them who started the confusion with Tesla. It's also very publicly known that Tesla leadership had plans to build a semi years before Nikola was founded.

    Maybe Tesla could counter-sue to strip them from their company name?

    All in all, all this kind of litigation isn't productive at all. Sad really.

  • This Electrek article [] show prior art for wrap-around windows and mid entry door. Check the comments and you'll find many others, such as the Volvo Supertruck concept from 2014. The Nikola cab looks way closer to that Volvo than the Tesla cab does to the Nikola.
  • Fuselage design is just what you get when you stick a semi in a windtunnel and take things one step beyond conventional models. Every 'advanced concept' truck looks like this. And the two designs don't look all that similar beyond the outer mold line.

    Wraparound windshield: meh. The idea is old (look at current Scanias for instance), it's just that they usually have the doors further forward.

    Which leaves us with the only innovation: the mid-entry door. I don't see truckers enjoying this one, esp. if you're w

  • I'd never heard of Nikola Motors until now.
    Someone once told me there's no such thing as bad publicity.
    Usually it's politicians who pull this trick by grandstanding on some "issue"

  • You want to make an electric truck that is aerodynamic and has good driver viability, chances are it is going to be very similar to any other truck that has been designed with the same goals in mind.
  • The CEO of Nikola, a Mr Shorten Cologne, was not available for comment.

  • Nikola Tesla invented alternating electrical current.

    No, he didn't. It predated him by a while... what he invented was a practical and brushless (IIRC) motor/generator for alternating current. Prior to his invention, AC was used for the only purpose it could be put, by and large, lighting. (Power pushed through arc lamps.) Probably would have been used for heating as well, if not for the fact that at the time, heating was generally done by burning fuel, so there probably weren't a lot of electric heaters. Prior to this, alternating current was produced i

  • If a Tesla truck sets on fire, the last thing that will leap to anyone's mind is "boy those wraparound windscreens make me think of a Nikola truck!".

    Conversely if a Nikola truck goes up in smoke I doubt anyone will confuse it with a Tesla truck.

    Aside from that, anyone who has paid attention to trucks, or played truck sim games knows that they're really a product of function over form - the cab is over the engine or behind it. Trucks are designed to largely interchange so vehicles can hitch to and haul d

  • Capitalism aside I hope these companies came into existence in order to try and solve the worlds dependency on fossil fuels and usher in a new era of using renewables. Petty fighting does nothing to solve these issues and only increases the barrier of entry to those whose conscience is to make the world a better place.

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson