Tesla hit with $2B lawsuit alleging violation of semi truck patents

Tesla Inc. was hit with a $2 billion infringement lawsuit from the startup alternative fuel vehicle manufacturer Nikola Corp., which alleged in Arizona federal court Tuesday that Tesla stole its design for a semi truck.

The Utah-based outfit alleges that the Elon Musk-run company copied several styling elements from its upcoming Class 8 tractor for the design of the all-electric Tesla semi it revealed past year.

Nikola alleges Tesla copied its unique (and patented) "wrap windshield, mid-entry door, fuselage, fender, side cladding, and the overall design of a semi".

"Nikola estimates its harm from Tesla's infringement to be in excess of $2 billion", the company said in its lawsuit filing. "It's patently obvious there is no merit to this lawsuit", a Tesla spokesman told Reuters.

While Tesla is best known for its battery sedan and SUV models, it is also hoping to become a big player in the truck market with the upcoming launch of its electric Semi.

In May 2016, Nikola unveiled its first two products to the public, including the hydrogen semi in question and an electric four-wheel off-road vehicle.

There is a certain irony about the allegations of market confusion, considering Nikola named itself after Tesla's namesake.

Nikola is now based in Salt Lake City, Utah, but it's planning to move its headquarters to Phoenix, Arizona, in July. "Upon information and belief, Tesla does not have any patents protecting the design of its semi-truck and has not filed any applications for design patent protection".

In the suit, Nikola noted that Tesla has never claimed that its design was unique.

Tesla unveiled its electric semi truck in November.

The complaint notes that Tesla's stock price spiked after it announced its Semi in November. By August 2016, Nikola said it had more than 300 orders totalling over 7,000 trucks-a value of $2.3 billion. Nearly immediately, Tesla received orders for its Semi.

Musk has been accused of using flashy new projects, such as $500 flamethrowers, hyperloop tunnels, and a semi truck, to distract from the cash flow and manufacturing problems the company is having with the core business at Tesla.

In January, Nikola announced it would build a $1-billion factory in Arizona, where it plans to manufacture its trucks, none of which are on the road yet.

  • Eleanor Harrison