Toyota-backed robotaxi unicorn sues ex-employees over trade secrets – TechCrunch, a Chinese autonomous vehicle company worth $8.5 billion, has sued two former employees for alleged trade secret violations.

The lawsuit comes months after Frank (Zhenhao) Pan and Youhan Sun, two former technical heads of Pony’s U.S. autonomous truck business, resigned to set up a competitor called Qingtian Truck.

China’s autonomous driving newcomers are under increasing pressure to commercialize as they reach later stages of fundraising. They’re still years away from deploying driverless robotic taxis on a large scale on busy city streets, but simpler scenarios like shuttle buses and long-distance trucks have given them opportunities.

In 2020, Pony created a separate trucking division branded PonyTron. Earlier this year, it set up a trucking joint venture with Sinotrans, a freight forwarding company owned by the Chinese state-owned China Merchants Group.

Pony filed the lawsuit in a Beijing court, seeking 60 million yuan ($8.9 million) in damages from Qingtian. The Beijing Intellectual Property Court has accepted the case, Pony told TechCrunch.

Qingtian said in a statement that it has not yet received an allegation document and is verifying information on the case.

“Qingtian Truck has always obeyed the law, practiced business ethics, and insisted on independent R&D and innovation. We have not violated any trade secrets of third parties,” the company said.

IP disputes are not uncommon in the billion-dollar autonomous driving industry, which depends on technological breakthroughs. Elon Musk has long been at loggerheads with Xpeng, Tesla’s Chinese competitor. 2019 Tesla filed a lawsuit against a former employee alleging that he stole trade secrets related to the company’s Autopilot driver assistance feature and brought them to Xpeng. The case was dropped last year.

Pan, former chief technology officer for Pony’s trucking business, and Sun, who previously led planning and control for the company’s US trucking business, were among senior executives who left Pony last year to join to open her own shop.

Sun Haowen, former head of planning and control for Pony’s autonomous driving in China, also left to work on a new autonomous truck company.

TechCrunch sources and other media reports suggested that employees were upset by Pony’s decision to merge the R&D units of its truck and car companies, but Pony argued the restructuring would yield more efficient results. Toyota-backed robotaxi unicorn sues ex-employees over trade secrets – TechCrunch

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