Toyota-backed unicorn robot taxi sues former employees over trade secrets

- Advertisement -, a Chinese self-driving car company. estimated at $8.5 billion. recently sued two former employees for breach of trade secrets.

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The lawsuit comes months after Frank (Zhenhao) Pan and Yuhan Song, two former technical executives of Pony’s U.S. autonomous trucking, stepped down to create a competitor called Qingtian Truck.

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Chinese autonomous driving upstarts are under increasing pressure to commercialize as they reach the later stages of fundraising. They are still a long way from a large-scale deployment of unmanned robot taxis on busy city roads, but simpler scenarios such as shuttle buses and long-distance trucks have provided them with opportunities.

In 2020, Pony created a separate trucking division under its own brand. ponytron. At the beginning of this year, he formed joint venture for cargo transportation with Sinotransfreight forwarding company, part of the Chinese state-owned conglomerate China Merchants Group.

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Pony has filed a complaint with a Beijing court and is seeking damages of 60 million yuan ($8.9 million) from Qingtian. Pony told TechCrunch that the Beijing Intellectual Property Court has accepted the case.

Qingtian said in statement that he has not yet received any documents with charges and is checking information on this case.

“Qingtian Truck has always adhered to the law, practiced business ethics, and insisted on independent research and development and innovation. We did not violate the trade secrets of third parties,” the company said.

Intellectual property disputes are not uncommon in billion dollars an autonomous driving industry that depends on technological breakthroughs. Elon Musk has long been at odds with Xpeng, Tesla’s Chinese competitor. Tesla in 2019 filed a lawsuit against a former employee alleging that he stole a trade secret related to the Autopilot driver assistance feature and gave it to Xpeng. A business was expelled last year.

Pan, former CTO of Pony’s shipping division, and Sun, who previously led the company’s US shipping planning and control, were among the senior employees who left Pony over the past year to open their own store.

Sun Haoweng, former head of planning and control of Pony autonomous driving in China, also gone to work on a new autonomous cargo enterprise.

TechCrunch sources and other media reports proposed that employees were unhappy with Pony’s decision to merge the research and development divisions of their truck and passenger car businesses, but Pony reasoned that the restructuring would lead to better results.

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