Pony.ai, a Chinese self-driving car company recently valued at $8.5 billion, has sued two former employees for alleged trade secret violations.
The lawsuit comes months after Frank (Zhenhao) Pan and Youhan Sun, two former tech heads of Pony’s U.S. self-driving truck business, resigned to start a competitor called Qingtian Trucks.
As Chinese self-driving startups enter the late stages of funding, they face increasing pressure to commercialize. They’re still years away from mass deployment of driverless robo-taxis on bustling city roads, but simpler scenarios like shuttle buses and long-haul trucks offer them an opportunity.
In 2020, Pony created and branded a separate freight division Pony Creation. Earlier this year, it established Cargo joint venture with Sinotransis a freight forwarding company under the China Merchants Group, a state-owned enterprise group.
Pony filed a lawsuit in a Beijing court and asked Qingtian to pay 60 million yuan ($8.9 million) in compensation. Pony told TechCrunch that the Beijing Intellectual Property Court has taken up the case.
Qingtian said on the side statement It has not received any charging documents and is verifying information about the case.
“Dragon Trucks always abides by the law, practices business ethics, and insists on independent research and innovation. We have not violated any third-party trade secrets,” the company said.
Intellectual property disputes are not uncommon in China billion dollars An autonomous driving industry that relies on technological breakthroughs. Elon Musk has long been at odds with Tesla’s Chinese rival, Xpeng. In 2019, Tesla A lawsuit was filed against a former employee, alleging he stole trade secrets related to the company’s Autopilot driver-assistance feature and brought it to Xpeng Motors.case Abandoned last year.
Pan, who was the CTO of Pony’s freight operations, and Sun, who was responsible for the planning and control of the company’s freight operations in the United States, are among the senior employees who have left Pony over the past year to set up their own stores.
Sun Haowen, Pony’s head of pre-autonomous planning and control in China, also left to work on a new self-driving truck business.
TechCrunch sources and other media reports suggest that employees are unhappy with Pony’s decision to merge the research and development divisions of its truck and passenger car businesses, but Pony believes the reorganization will lead to a more effective outcome.