Legal trouble casts shadow on cheap, 300-mile Envia battery for EVs

A bit shy of two years ago, battery startup Envia Systems looked quite promising. The Silicon Valley company had produced a 400-watt-hours-per-kilogram lithium ion battery and claimed it could be placed inside an electric car that would cost $20,000 and be able to travel 300 miles on one charge. It was enough to bring in millions of dollars in funding from the US Department of Energy's APRA-E program, the California Energy Commission and General Motors. This all appears to be in trouble now.

In February 2012, nanotech startup NanoeXa Corporation sued Envia alleging intellectual property theft of its battery cathode technology. That plot thickened on November 22, 2013, when Envia's former CEO Atul Kapadia and executives Hari Iyer and Rohit Arora filed suit against the company and co-founder Sujeet Kamar, claiming fraud in the inducement of their employment and wrongful termination. Back in the 2012 lawsuit (which is still ongoing), NanoeXa alleged that Kumar and two other executives had left the nanotech company in 2007 and had illegally taken its cathode technology with them.

A few months before the November 2013 lawsuit filing, Kapadia, Iyer and Arora had been fired after Envia's deal with GM had ended sourly. GM had been interested in using Envia's technology, potentially in next-gen versions of the Chevrolet Volt. Through its venture arm, GM invested in Envia in 2010 and purchased the right to license its cathode technology but now it isn't clear who actually owns said battery technology. In the November 2013 lawsuit, Kapadia said he'd found out that Kumar had years ago downloaded at least 99 files and more than one gigabyte of confidential information from NanoeXa and attempted to cover it up. Envia denied the lawsuit's allegations. Its new PR firm sent a response to GigaOM's Katie Fehrenbacher, beginning with this statement: "The allegations in the complaint are baseless. The evidence will show that the plaintiffs' lawsuit is nothing more than the spurious allegations of three disgruntled former employees."

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