Tesla is suing former employees for allegedly stealing software code

Vehicles pass the Tesla Inc. assembly plant in Fremont, California, USA on Monday, May 11, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Tesla is suing a former employee and software developer named Alex Khatilov for stealing trade secrets and breach of contract.

In the complaint, the company accused Khatilov of retrieving code and files from WARP Drive, a back-end software system that Tesla developed to automate a number of business processes in the manufacture and sale of its cars. They also accuse him of clearing possible evidence when security teams confronted him.

Khatilov was hired to help Tesla’s quality assurance team develop software that could automate tasks or business processes related to the environment, health and safety.

According to the complaint, he started working at Tesla on December 28, 2020 and almost immediately began uploading files and scripts (written in a programming language called Python) to his Dropbox account. Tesla confronted him on January 6th about his alleged theft.

The code is important to Tesla because it could show competitors “which systems Tesla believes are important and valuable to automate them and how they can be automated – and provide a roadmap for copying Tesla’s innovation,” it says it in the complaint.

This is not the first time Tesla has sued or accused former employees of trade theft. Tesla sued Guangzhi Cao for copying autopilot source code onto his personal accounts and devices in late 2018. This case is still ongoing.

The company also sued former employees who ended up in other electrical and autonomous vehicle stores, Rivian and Zoox, for alleged intellectual property theft.

Tesla announced in the new complaint on Friday that only 40 employees out of a total of around 50,000 employees work in the quality assurance team of the company that Khatilov has hired. The company also said it had spent an estimated “200 man-years” developing the code in question.

Khatilov told the New York Post on Friday that the software files had accidentally landed in his Dropbox. He tried to make a backup of a folder on his computer, he told the newspaper, and accidentally moved it to Dropbox. He was unaware that Tesla was suing him until the newspaper informed him of the matter.

The case is here:

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