Tesla, Inc., an American electric car manufacturing company based in Palo Alto, California has sued a former employee and software engineer named ‘Alex Khatilov’ alleging trade secret theft and breach of contract in his first week of working at the company.
Theft Of Confidential Files
The company accuses Khatilov of stealing code and files from WARP Drive, a back-end software system that Tesla developed to automate a range of business processes involved in manufacturing and selling its cars.
“They also accuse him of deleting possible evidence when security teams confronted him”, reads CNBC report.
The accused was hired to help Tesla’s Quality Assurance team create software that could automate tasks or business processes related to Environment, Health and Safety.
He started working for 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 about his alleged theft on January 6th.
The code is of concern to Tesla because it could 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,” the complaint says.
Tesla’s security team detected the file downloads on January 6, after Khatilov was hired on December 28, and confronted him via video call as he was working from home, according to the court filing.
Tesla said during this call, Khatilov delayed sharing his screen with the team, during that period “he could be seen on video chat hurriedly deleting information from his computer.”
Earlier Tesla has sued ex-employees of trade theft. The company sued Guangzhi Cao for copying Autopilot source code to his personal accounts and devices in late 2018. That case is still in progress.
In the new complaint on Friday Tesla revealed that only 40 people of around 50,000 total employees work on the company’s Quality Assurance team that hired Khatilov.
The company also says it has spent an estimated “200 man-years of work” to develop the code in question.
Finally, Khatilov told the New York Post on Friday, that the software files ended up in his Dropbox by mistake. He was trying to make a backup copy of a folder on his computer, he told the newspaper, and unintentionally moved it to Dropbox. He was not aware Tesla was suing him until the newspaper reached out to him about the matter.