Tesla Sues Ex-Staffer for Stealing Proprietary Software Code


Illustration for article titled Tesla Sues Ex-Staffer for Allegedly Stealing Proprietary Software Code

Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

Tesla is reportedly taking one of its former employees to court over allegedly stealing company information and breaching contract, CNBC reports.

According to a lawsuit filed Friday, Tesla claims software engineer Alex Khatilov quietly siphoned software code and files from Tesla’s internal Warp Drive system while working on the company’s quality assurance team. The complaint says he began working for the company in December and within days he began sending “thousands of highly confidential software files” to his personal Dropbox account.

Tesla’s Warp Drive software is a back-end system developed in-house to automate many of its business processes related to producing and selling cars. The company claims that the stolen material could potentially reveal to competitors “which systems Tesla believes are important and valuable to automate and how to automate them – providing a roadmap to copy Tesla’s innovation,” per the lawsuit. The code in question took an estimated “200 man-years of work” to develop, Tesla claims.

When confronted by Tesla investigators on Jan. 6, Khatilov claimed that he simply “forgot” he had transferred the files to his personal Dropbox. He further elaborated in a New York Post interview that the whole thing was a misunderstanding.

Khatilov said he was instructed to download the files to his computer because he would be working with them as part of his job with Tesla’s QA team, which involved helping to automate tasks related to the company’s Environment, Health, and Safety systems. When trying to make a backup copy of a folder containing the cache of internal documents, he “unintentionally” moved it to his Dropbox by mistake.

“I didn’t know that there was 26,000 files there,” he told the outlet. He didn’t even know that Tesla had filed a lawsuit against him until the Post reached out to him.

That’s honestly not hard to believe. Tesla is fiercely protective of its proprietary data and has a history of handing out lawsuits whenever it gets the slightest whiff that its secret sauce may be at risk. Tesla accused another former employee, Guangzhi Cao, of stealing source code related to its Autopilot system in 2018, and that lawsuit is still being settled in court. Tesla also sued the self-driving startup Zoox in 2019 and the electric automaker Rivian in 2020 over allegedly making off with trade secrets. Last April, Zoox settled with Tesla for an undisclosed sum and admitted that “certain of its new hires from Tesla” were in possession of internal Tesla documents.



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