Pony.ai, an $8.5 billion Chinese autonomous vehicle company, has sued two former employees for allegedly infringing trade secrets.
The lawsuit comes months after Frank (Zhenhao) Pan and Youhan Sun, two former technical leaders at Pony’s autonomous truck company in the US, resigned to start a competitor called Qingtian Truck.
China’s autonomous-driving start-ups are under increasing pressure to commercialize as they move into later stages of fundraising. They are still years away from deploying self-driving robotic axles on a large scale on busy urban roads, but simpler scenarios such as shuttle buses and long-haul trucks have presented them with opportunities.
In 2020, Pony set up a separate truck division, which they call PonyTron. Earlier this year it formed a trucking joint venture with Sinotransa freight forwarding company under the Chinese state conglomerate China Merchants Group.
Pony filed the complaint in a Beijing court, seeking damages of 60 million yuan ($8.9 million) from Qingtian. Beijing’s Intellectual Property Court has accepted the case, Pony told londonbusinessblog.com.
Qingtian said in a pronunciation that it has not yet received a document of allegation and is verifying information about the case.
“Qingtian Truck has always followed the law, applied business ethics and insisted on independent R&D and innovation. We have not infringed any third-party trade secrets,” the company said.
IP disputes are not uncommon in the billion dollars autonomous driving industry that relies on technological breakthroughs. Elon Musk has long been at odds with Tesla’s Chinese competitor Xpeng. In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against a former employee who claimed 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 of Pony’s trucking business, and Sun, who previously led the planning and control of the company’s trucking business in the US, were among the senior employees to leave Pony in the past year to run their own store. to set up.
Sun Haowen, former chief of planning and control for Pony’s autonomous driving in China, also left to work on a new autonomous truck company.
londonbusinessblog.com’s sources and other media reports suggested that employees were dissatisfied with Pony’s decision to merge the R&D units of its truck and passenger car companies, but Pony argued that the restructuring would lead to more efficient results.