US-based electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla is looking to Apple to help build its case against a former employee it suspects stole self-driving technology before defecting to a Chinese rival, according to court documents.

Why it matters: Cao Guangzhi, a former self-driving engineer at Tesla, confirmed in a filing earlier this week that he had uploaded Tesla’s Autopilot source code to his personal iCloud account, which is run by Apple, before leaving the company.

  • The EV maker has now subpoenaed documents from Apple to aid in its investigation, according to a filing from last week.
  • Cao went on to join, the US-based research division of Chinese EV maker Xpeng, following his departure from Tesla.
  • Apple suspects an ex-employee who also joined XMotors stole some of its autonomous driving technology.

Xpeng was not immediately available for comment when reached by TechNode on Friday.

Details: Tesla filed the case against its former engineer in March, accusing him of uploading in excess of 300,000 files as well as source code to his personal cloud storage account before quitting in January.

  • At the same time, the company accused four other former employees of leaking trade secrets to Silicon Valley-based autonomous driving startup Zoox.
  • Cao has denied any misconduct but admits that he did not disclose that he had copied the files prior to his departure.
  • Tesla didn’t inquire about any confidential materials or information regarding trade secrets when the engineer left the company, Cao’s lawyers said.
  • Cao has already provided Tesla with emails from his Gmail account.
  • Neither Apple nor Tesla have accused Xpeng of wrongdoing.

Context: The US Justice Department last year brought charges against a former Apple employee who it suspects stole technology from the US tech giant before joining XMotors. Zhang Xiaolang, the defendant in the case, pleaded not guilty in July last year.

  • The accusations came amid increased trade tensions between China and the US, in which intellectual property theft is central to US complaints.
  • China is pushing its capabilities in developing self-driving cars. By 2030, the country aims to become a world leader in artificial intelligence—the technology that underpins self-driving cars.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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