(TNS) -- Tesla on Wednesday settled a high-profile lawsuit against one of its former executives and his self-driving car startup, a case that reflected the increasingly fierce competition to perfect autonomous vehicles.
The suit was against Sterling Anderson, the former head of Tesla’s Autopilot division, and Aurora Innovation, the startup he co-founded late last year with Chris Urmson, one of the most highly regarded engineers in the field of self-driving cars. Urmson had been the head of Google’s autonomous vehicle project, now known as Waymo.
Tesla sued Anderson, Urmson and Aurora in January, accusing Anderson of stealing confidential Tesla data and recruiting some of the company’s engineers to join him at his startup while he was still working at Tesla.
“Under the settlement, Mr. Anderson’s contractual obligations to Tesla will remain in place and will also be extended to Aurora, with additional specific protections being added to ensure there are no further violations,” a Tesla spokesman said in an email.
“The settlement also establishes a process to allow
Tesla to recover all of the proprietary information that was taken from the company, and it provides for Aurora’s computer systems to be subject to ongoing audits to monitor for any improper retention or use of Tesla’s property,” the spokesman added.
Such audits were one of Tesla’s demands when it filed the suit.
Aurora, however, maintained Wednesday that its internal audit found none of Tesla’s confidential data on the computers of the company or its employees.
In a post on Medium, Anderson called the Tesla suit meritless.
“Today, less than three months after filing (and even before we were permitted to file a response), Tesla has withdrawn its claims, without damages, without attorney’s fees, and without any finding of wrongdoing,” he wrote. “We have even agreed to reimburse the cost of a future audit to demonstrate the integrity of Aurora’s intellectual property.”
According to Tesla, Aurora has paid the company $100,000, but did not specify what it was for.
The lawsuit shone a stark light on the competition among companies developing self-driving cars, each vying for a technological edge. In a field still so new, each company has tried to woo the best talent from a limited pool of engineers.
In a similar action, Waymo sued ride service Uber in February, alleging intellectual property theft. Another of Google’s former top engineers, Anthony Levandowski, left the company to create a self-driving truck startup, Otto, which was quickly bought by Uber.
Waymo accused Levandowski of recruiting colleagues to join him. It also claimed that Uber is using Waymo’s proprietary design for lidar, a laser version of radar that lets cars scan their environments. That case is pending.
©2017 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.