Time to join forces to end this crime.
Corporate espionage is nothing new and it still happens today, although it's becoming increasingly difficult to conceal. But when technology is allegedly stolen from a technology company, chances are that the company knows how to trace the source of the theft. That's exactly what happened with Tesla and Apple. Bloomberg reports the two tech giants believe they've both been betrayed by driverless technology engineers who all defected to the same company: XMotors.ai, the US research division of Chinese startup Xpeng.
It all started last year when prosecutors charged a hardware engineer working in Apple's autonomous vehicle R&D team with downloading proprietary files just prior to leaving the company to go work for – you guessed it – XMotors.ai. The engineer later pleaded not guilty.
And now a former Tesla engineer, named Guangzhi Cao, admitted in a court filing he downloaded copies of Tesla's Autopilot source code to his own iCloud account but claims he did nothing wrong. His lawyer claims he tried to delete the source code from his personal devices and even offered Tesla forensic copies of any devices they wanted to inspect. What does Tesla need from Apple, exactly?
It served Apple with a subpoena seeking unspecified documents, Cao's emails, and a forensic analysis on his Apple devices. Tesla wants the manufacturer itself, not a third party, to do the analysis, which makes sense. Given that Apple previously had legal issues of its own against Xpeng, Tesla figures they now both have a common enemy.
Meanwhile, Xpeng claims it's done nothing wrong and plays by the rules. Neither Apple nor Tesla have directly accused Xpeng of wrongdoing (yet). Xpeng also says that when the US authorities notified them last summer about the engineer's alleged misconduct, it immediately placed his computer and office equipment in a secure location, denied him access to his work, and then fired him.
While Tesla and Apple are competitors in the driverless technology realm, neither likes being victims of corporate theft. Xpeng's two biggest competitors could join forces against it.