Startup Sues Tesla For $ 2 Billion Over Semi Truck Design


Nikola Corp., a hydrogen-powered truck startup, is suing Tesla Inc. for $2 billion as per media reports. The startup claims that the Elon Musk-led company intentionally copied patented design features of its tractor trailers. 

The truck designed by Nikola

The complaint, filed on Tuesday in Arizona, claimed that Tesla copied Nikola designs with the electric semi truck Musk unveiled in November.

The closely held, four-year-old startup alleges similarities in the wraparound windshields, doors and look of the cab of its Nikola One hydrogen-electric hybrid truck revealed in 2016.

The case pits two companies both named after the inventor and futurist Nikola Tesla, best known for developing alternating current in electrical systems.

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Nikola had sent a letter to Tesla after becoming aware of the design similarities, demanding it not unveil its semi until the infringement had been resolved. However, the Utah-based startup received no response. Nikola claims the similarities have created confusion in the marketplace and hurt its ability to attract partners and investors.

Tesla is accused of copying a wrap windshield that gives drivers an unobstructed view of the road, as well as the Nikola One’s fuselage and a side door. Nikola claims its windshield design “is identifiable from a distance.”

A Tesla spokeswoman denied the allegations in an emailed statement and said there’s no merit to the lawsuit. 

The truck designed by Tesla

Reservations for the Nikola One, slated to begin production in 2020, is currently worth more than $6.3 billion, according to the complaint. Tesla plans to start production of its semi next year. 

Design Patent Cases

Design patents are granted for aesthetic inventions, rather than ones that have a specific function. The last 15 years from the date of issuance and are considered easier cases to prove than ones over technical parts or functions, according to experts. Courts will consider the earlier known designs and overall look of the patented design.

It’s rare for two automakers to sue each other over designs, Katz said. Most suits by automakers are efforts to curb the market for replacement parts or allegations that Chinese manufacturers are producing copies of well-known brands to sell in their home market.

Nikola and Tesla both need unique designs to differentiate themselves in an established market and prove their clients that one is better than the other. 

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