Tesla has withdrawn the scathing lawsuit it filed against Sterling Anderson, the former program manager of its Autopilot team, and the company he founded with former Google exec Chris Urmson, Aurora Innovation.
According to a settlement agreement, Aurora will pay Tesla $100,000 (a paltry sum for a billion-dollar company like Tesla) and allow Tesla to hire an independent auditor to scour Aurora’s systems for confidential Tesla information, which would then be destroyed or returned to Tesla. Aurora will hire its own auditor to search for the same information, and will provide that information to Tesla. In a post on Medium, Anderson suggests that the $100,000 payment is meant to cover the cost of Tesla’s auditor.
Anderson and Aurora will also continue to abide by Anderson’s existing non-solicitation agreement with Tesla, and promise not to solicit employees or contractors of Tesla to leave that company for one year.
Though a cursory look suggests Tesla got most of what it wanted from its initial lawsuit filing (something that Tesla claims in its statement), there are two things that stand out:
First, $100,000 is not a lot of money to change hands considering that Tesla accused Anderson of taking confidential Tesla information and destroying evidence to cover his tracks, as well as attempting to poach a number of employees to his new venture. Second, the terms of the settlement are not covered by a confidentiality clause, a common requirement for many lawsuit settlements.
If Tesla’s claims about Anderson, stolen documents, and poached employees were completely accurate, one wonders why the company would withdrawn its lawsuit for such a small sum.
Even so, both companies are claiming victory. Here’s Tesla’s take:
Tesla’s lawsuit against Mr. Anderson, Mr. Urmson, and Aurora has been settled. 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. 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. Finally, $100,000 was paid to Tesla.
The statement issued by an Aurora spokesperson reflects that company’s very different view of the situation:
Delivering on a lofty vision is hard; in late January 2017 it got harder. Tesla filed a meritless lawsuit against us, supported by an aggressive public relations effort. Disappointed, but determined to defend our integrity, we immediately commissioned a comprehensive forensics audit that proved what we already knew to be true: (1) no material Tesla confidential information exists on our personal computers or company systems, and (2) there is no evidence that anyone at Aurora has used or has access to Tesla confidential information.
Today, less than three months after filing (and even before we were permitted to file a response) Tesla has withdrawn its claims, without damages, without attorney’s fees, and without any finding of wrongdoing. We have even agreed to reimburse the cost of a future audit to demonstrate the integrity of Aurora’s intellectual property.
In spite of this distraction, we’ve made great progress this last few months and are excited to now focus all of our energy on making transportation safer and better for all. We’ve been developing self-driving vehicles since long before it was trendy, and remain committed to bringing this important technology to market with the right team, doing things the right way.
Aurora remains in stealth, and will likely have more to share at a later date since it’s no longer being sued.