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Tesla settles with ex-engineer accused of stealing Autopilot source code

Tesla settles with ex-engineer accused of stealing Autopilot source code


The ex-engineer admits he took the code but said he never used it

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Tesla and former Tesla engineer Cao Guangzhi have come to a settlement after the electric car company accused Cao of stealing the Autopilot source code. Cao, an engineer focused on autonomous driving, told Reuters that the source code has never been used since he parted ways with Tesla.

In 2019 Tesla sued Cao after the engineer left Tesla to work at its rival, the Chinese carmaker XMotors. Tesla accused Cao of stealing trade secrets — specifically the source code for its Autopilot driver-assistance software. In the initial filing, Tesla referred to it as the “crown jewel of Tesla’s intellectual property portfolio.” While Tesla and its fans often liken it to autonomous driving, it's really more a sophisticated form of cruise control and Tesla has previously come under fire for misrepresenting its capabilities.

Cao left Tesla to work on automated driving technology at Xmotors. He later admitted that he uploaded multiple zip files containing the source code to his iCloud account in 2018 while he still worked for Tesla. Yet he insisted he never used the source code in his work at Xmotors, and continues to insist the same today.

XMotors confirmed to Reuters that Cao is no longer with the company, and says it respects intellectual property rights. Cao is on the hook with Tesla and per the terms of the settlement must pay the company. The details of the settlement have not been disclosed, so it’s unclear how much he owes Tesla.

As a reminder, never upload sensitive company materials to your personal cloud. You might have the best of intentions, but your employers probably won’t assume the same.