By on July 23, 2020

Tesla is accusing Rivian Automotive of poaching its employees and lifting trade secrets in a recent complaint filed in San Jose, CA. Founded in 2009 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology alum R.J. Scaringe, Rivian has made inroads with the automotive sector and established partnerships with entities like Amazon and Ford Motor Company (we think).

While its home base is presently TBD, as the company considers shifting more of its staff to the West Coast, its mission has remained consistent  manufacture all-electric SUVs and pickups so they can wash over North America.

Rivian is one of those “Tesla killers” you keep hearing about before they suddenly blip out of existence, but it has enough weight behind it to potentially offer real competition in the future it plays its cards right. Tesla is just worried that some of those cards might not belong to Rivian.

“Rivian is knowingly encouraging the misappropriation of Tesla’s trade secret, confidential, and proprietary information by Tesla employees that Rivian hires. In about the past week, Tesla has discovered disturbing pattern 0f employees who are departing for Rivian surreptitiously stealing Tesla trade secret, confidential, and proprietary information — information that is especially useful for startup electric vehicle company,” reads the complaint.

“And Rivian encourages those thefts even though Rivian is well aware of Tesla employees’ confidentiality obligations. In fact, 13 Rivian recruiters are from Tesla, and they themselves are still subject to Tesla’s confidentiality obligations.”

It names a handful of ex-employees that recently went to work for Rivian and suggests they downloaded sensitive information before leaving  similar to what we saw in the Waymo-Uber lawsuit. It even goes so far as to say it has proof of an employee sending confidential documents to Rivian while still technically employed by Tesla. Another employee was said to have taken a Tesla-owned laptop home with them that they refused to return.

According to Bloomberg, Rivian denies the allegations. “Rivian is made up of high-performing, mission-driven teams, and our business model and technology are based on many years of engineering, design and strategy development,” the company said in an e-mail. “This requires the contribution and know-how of thousands of employees from across the technology and automotive spaces.”

The company has also started waving off claims that it has decided to move the majority of its office space to California.

From Bloomberg:

Tesla has previously sued former employees for allegedly taking its trade secrets to China’s Xpeng Motors and Silicon Valley-based Zoox Inc.

In the new lawsuit, Tesla called itself Rivian’s “number one target from which to acquire information,” and said that Rivian has hired 178 ex-Tesla employees, roughly 70 of whom joined Rivian directly from Tesla.

Rivian said in its statement that “we admire Tesla for its leadership in resetting expectations of what an electric car can be,” while calling the claims in the lawsuit baseless and “counter to Rivian’s culture, ethos and corporate policies.”

Tesla looks to be coming in hot with this one. Most of the employees named in the filing (available here) have supposedly been caught red handed, with Tesla holding the receipts  or would at least Tesla would like it to appear that way in a courtroom. It definitely feels as though the company lost a not-insignificant number of staff to Rivian and is suspicious of some of the last-minute actions taken before their departure. One of those most blatant example revolves around former EHS Manger Jessica Siron, who now works at Rivian in an identical capacity. Tesla said she refused to remove sensitive documents from her personal cloud and made off with data she had little reason for possessing in the first place.

“These documents consisted of highly sensitive trade secret, confidential, and proprietary engineering information about manufacturing project management, controls specifications for manufacturing equipment, specifications regarding manufacturing robotics, and manufacturing equipment requirements,” Tesla claimed. “These documents would be used rarely, if at all, by Siron as manager of Environmental Health and Safety, yet she exported them shortly after accepting her offer at Rivian.”

[Image: JL IMAGES/Shutterstock]

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11 Comments on “Tesla Sues Rivian Over Stolen Secrets, Poached Employees...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Rivian is going to lose, as are the named employees.

    If Rivian is smart, they will disavow these new hires and take the high road. Otherwise, Amazon and Ford will begin to distance themselves if they suspect Rivian is holding radioactive IP.

    Rivian is doing the usual public posturing, but privately I’m sure they’ll do whatever it takes to avoid losing their future. A few poached employees aren’t worth it.

    • 0 avatar
      65corvair

      This happens all the time in all industries. Lawsuits go nowhere. You cannot be banned from getting a new job in the industry you work in already.

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        There is a difference between going to work for a competitor based on general level of expertise and going to work for a competitor and supplying purloined confidential information to that competitor.
        The latter is a firing offense in the new job, or ought to be. Staggering lack of common sense and ethics and the ex-Tesla people got caught by IT data tracking systems.

      • 0 avatar
        Lynchenstein

        Buuuuut if you are caught taking and sharing confidential information, and the recipient company is shown to have accepted the information, there’ll be hell ($$$$) to pay.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Non-compete clauses in hiring are a thing and in industries like this so to are non disclosure agreements. I’ve never seen a non compete enforced but I have seen someone get hemmed up over an NDA.

    • 0 avatar
      ydnas7

      Rivian is not in silicon valley, is this pursued by the GM, Ford and Chrysler? If not Tesla could lose this one.

      I see the case is filed in california, what if the employees have moved.

  • avatar

    I know at least one engineer who left Tesla to join Rivian. I can ask him why.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Poached employees? Maybe if Tesla didn’t treat their employees so poorly, they wouldn’t be having this problem.

    Tesla is not known to possess a good working environment.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      If you don’t like your employer, you are free to go elsewhere. You arent free to take your old company’s IP to the new company though. They may have had them sign non competes as well though in my experience those rarely hold up. If they stole IP on the way out the door though, yeah that almost always holds up.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        ” in my experience those rarely hold up. If they stole IP on the way out the door though, yeah that almost always holds up.”

        Especially when the employer, after getting burned once by IP theft, puts technology in place to keep it from happening again and has the evidence.

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