Tesla settles lawsuit against ex-Autopilot head, citing “protections” put in place to prevent future violations

Tesla has withdrawn a lawsuit filed in January against ex-Autopilot Director Sterling Anderson after the electric car maker, reportedly, found no “wrongdoing” over initial allegations of breach of contract. According to a statement made by Aurora Innovation LLC via Bloomberg, “Tesla has withdrawn its claims, without damages, without attorney’s fees, and without any finding of wrongdoing”.

Both parties have reached a settlement that will bring the litigation to an end. Aurora, the self-driving car startup that Anderson left Tesla for, agreed to reimburse the cost of an audit to “demonstrate the integrity” of its intellectual property. Tesla has confirmed the settlement and says it has been paid $100,000.

“Under the settlement, Mr. Anderson’s contractual obligations to Tesla will remain in place and will also be extended to Aurora, with additional specific protections being added to ensure there are no further violations,” Tesla said in its statement. “The settlement also establishes a process to allow Tesla to recover all of the proprietary information that was taken from the company, and it provides for Aurora’s computer systems to be subject to ongoing audits to monitor for any improper retention or use of Tesla’s property.”

Competition for qualified autonomous driving engineers in Silicon Valley is white hot. Waymo, the self-driving division of Google, is suing Uber, alleging that one of its former engineers, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded thousands of files from its servers before he abruptly left the company at the end of 2015. Levandowski then helped establish Otto, a startup that makes self driving systems for heavy duty trucks. Uber bought Otto last year and has made great progress with its own self driving systems since then.

Waymo says that’s no coincidence, since Uber is using technology pirated from it by Levandowski, a charge with Uber hotly denies. To add spice to the saga, Levandowski recently claimed his Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination when asked about the purloined files in court.

Tesla found itself in a similar situation after Anderson left the company at the end of 2015 to form Aurora Innovation with former head of Google’s self-driving car program, Chris Urmson. Aurora Innovation was a named defendant in the litigation. When Anderson cut ties with Tesla, three other engineers from Tesla’s Autopilot division followed him out the door. One of those three later had a change of heart and returned to Tesla.


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