Toyota-backed robotaxi unicorn Pony.ai sues ex-employees over commerce secrets and techniques – TechCrunch


Pony.ai, a Chinese language autonomous automobile firm valued at $8.5 billion as of late, has sued two former workers over alleged commerce secret infringement.

The lawsuit is arriving months after Frank (Zhenhao) Pan and Youhan Solar, two former technical leaders at Pony’s autonomous trucking enterprise within the U.S., resigned to start out a competitor known as Qingtian Truck.

China’s autonomous driving upstarts are beneath rising stress to commercialize as they attain later levels of fundraising. They’re nonetheless years away from deploying driverless robotaxis on bustling city roads at scale, however less complicated situations comparable to shuttle buses and long-haul vans have introduced them with alternatives.

In 2020, Pony established a separate trucking division, which it branded PonyTron. Earlier this yr, it shaped a trucking three way partnership with Sinotrans, a freight forwarding firm beneath the Chinese language state-owned conglomerate China Retailers Group.

Pony filed the criticism with a court docket in Beijing and is searching for damages of 60 million yuan ($8.9 million) from Qingtian. The Beijing Mental Property Court docket has accepted the case, Pony advised TechCrunch.

Qingtian stated in a press release that it has but to obtain any allegation doc and is verifying data concerning the case.

“Qingtian Truck has all the time adhered to the regulation, practiced enterprise ethics, and insisted on unbiased R&D and innovation. We now have not infringed upon any third-party commerce secret,” the corporate stated.

IP dispute shouldn’t be unusual within the billion-dollar autonomous driving trade that depends upon technological breakthroughs. Elon Musk for a very long time was at loggerheads with Xpeng, Tesla’s Chinese language competitor. In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit towards a former worker alleging that he had stolen commerce secrets and techniques associated to the agency’s Autopilot driver help characteristic and introduced them to Xpeng. The case was dropped final yr. 

Pan, former chief know-how officer for Pony’s trucking enterprise, and Solar, who beforehand led planning and management for the corporate’s trucking enterprise within the U.S., have been among the many senior workers who’ve left Pony over the previous yr to arrange their very own store.

Solar Haowen, former head of planning and management for Pony’s autonomous driving in China, additionally left to work on a brand new autonomous trucking enterprise.

TechCrunch’s sources and different media stories instructed that workers have been disgruntled about Pony’s resolution to merge the R&D models of its trucking and passenger automotive companies, however Pony reasoned that the restructuring would result in extra environment friendly outcomes.

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