Hydrogen truck startup Nikola Motor Company has hit Tesla with a $2-billion patent infringement lawsuit that accuses Elon Musk’s company of stealing certain aspects of its semi truck design.
Nikola filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in Arizona federal court claiming that Tesla’s electric semi, which was unveiled in November 2017, infringes on several of its patents, including Nikola’s mid-entry door, fuselage, and wrap windshield that is designed to give the driver an unobstructed view of the road.
The lawsuit claims Tesla wilfully copied these patents in creating its electric truck, and Nikola is seeking $2 billion in damages in return.
“It’s patently obvious there is no merit to this lawsuit,” a spokesperson for Tesla told media in an email statement. A representative for Nikola Motors said in a statement to The Verge that “We are not commenting because it is in the courts. The lawsuit speaks for itself.”
Nikola was founded in 2014, and the company showed off its first two products — an electric four-wheel off-road vehicle and a hydrogen-electric semi — in May 2016. It has since added a second semi to its eventual lineup, teased some all-electric personal watercraft, and announced plans for a $1 billion factory in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.
Nikola Motor is designing and building its own driverless, hydrogen fuel cell-powered Class 8 truck. After posting a design of its Nikola One freight truck in May 2016, the company unveiled the Nikola One in December 2016. It is also developing a Nikola Two day-cab, which will begin testing in fall 2018. It’s expected to go into full production in 2021.
Four months after Nikola first published its design, Aaron Hoyos, a recruiter for Tesla, reached out to Nikola’s chief engineer Kevin Lynk, the lawsuit alleges. In that email, the lawsuit alleges that Hoyos told Lynk that “Tesla is building a new team to focus on development heavy Class A trucks” and said his background would be a “good fit”.
Tesla released a teaser image of its Tesla Semi in April 2017. Six months later, just days before Tesla would reveal its Tesla Semi truck at a splashy event, Nikola sent a letter demanding the company not proceed with the unveiling until the patent infringement was resolved, the lawsuit says. Nikola says in the lawsuit that Tesla never responded.
Nikola has sparred with Tesla before, including how it chose to use the first name of the same famous investor (Nikola Tesla) when founding the company. Most recently, Nikola claimed in April that while it has over $8 billion in pre-orders for the different versions of its semi trucks, all those reservations will “be refunded 100 per cent” and the startup “won’t use your money to operate our business” — statements that appear to be obvious jabs at Tesla, which holds nearly $1 billion in customer deposits for the Model 3 and other various announced products, according to recent filings.
The lawsuit also highlights an increasingly heated competition in the trucking industry. Dozens of other companies, from established truckmakers like Daimler, Navistar, and Volkswagen to startups like Peloton and Embark as well as Uber’s Otto and Waymo, the erstwhile Google self-driving vehicle project, are pursuing what they believe is the next generation of trucking.