Tesla settles lawsuit with former head of its Autopilot system

Tesla Inc. and the former head of its Autopilot program have settled a lawsuit brought by the electric vehicle maker in January, the parties said on Wednesday, in a deal that prevents the former executive from recruiting Tesla employees for a year.

Neither side admitted to any wrongdoing under the terms of the agreement, which was seen by Reuters. Tesla's lawsuit against Sterling Anderson, the nontechnical program manager of Tesla's Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system, accused Anderson of trying to recruit Tesla engineers for his new venture, Aurora Innovation, before leaving the company.

It also claimed he downloaded some of Tesla's "competitively sensitive" information to his laptop. Aurora and Chris Urmson, a co-founder of Aurora and the former head of Alphabet Inc's self-driving project, were co-defendants in the lawsuit. Claims against Aurora and Urmson were also dropped.

The lawsuit underscored the fierce competition for talent in Silicon Valley's self-driving car sector. Anderson was the public face of Tesla's Autopilot system that allows for partial self-driving, which Tesla eventually plans to develop into full autonomy.

Tesla said in a statement that the settlement "establishes a process to allow Tesla to recover all of the proprietary information that was taken from the company" and that Aurora's computers would be subject to audits to monitor for any use of Tesla's property.

The defendants will pay $100,000 to Tesla. Tesla's complaint had called for a one-year injunction on soliciting Tesla employees to come work at Aurora.

In a statement, Aurora said no material Tesla confidential information exists on its computer systems and "there is no evidence that anyone at Aurora has used or has access to Tesla confidential information." It said it agreed to the $100,000 payment "to demonstrate the integrity of Aurora's intellectual property."

Disputes over intellectual property in self-driving vehicle technology gained attention in February, when Alphabet's self-driving unit, Waymo, sued Uber Technologies Inc. .

Waymo alleged that its former engineer Anthony Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 confidential files, including trade secrets, before leaving to set up a rival company later acquired by Uber. Uber - which Waymo claimed had profited from the stolen files - has said none of the files can be found on its servers.

A federal judge is set to rule as early as next month on whether to grant Waymo's request for a preliminary injunction to prevent Uber from using the disputed documents.

Reporting by Alexandria Sage, editing by Matthew Lewis.

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