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Tesla sued for ‘copying’ its semi-truck design

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Elon Musk unveils the Tesla Semi
Elon Musk unveils the Tesla Semi

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Tesla might be in trouble. 

Nikola, a hybrid-truck startup, has filed a $2 billion lawsuit against Tesla. Nikola alleges Tesla’s semi-truck design infringes upon multiple patents it holds. 

According to the lawsuit, the saga of Nikola and Tesla (the first and last name of the famed 19th-century inventor) is a long and convoluted one. 

Nikola filed a number of design patents for a an electric truck in 2015. It posted a design for its electric semi, the Nikola One, on its website in May 2016. These patents included a wraparound windshield, a feature the Tesla Semi also has. The patent also describes a “mid-entry door, fuselage, fender, side cladding, and the overall design of a semi.”

At this point, Nikola claims Tesla had not yet announced its intent to build a similar semi-truck. 

This is where things get murky: In July 2016, Elon Musk announced that Tesla was in the “early stages of development.” In September of that year, Tesla tried and failed to hire Nikola’s chief engineer. In December 2016, Nikola unveiled a prototype of the Nikola One. 

Four months later, in April 2017, Tesla released the first teaser image of its semi, without having filed any patents. 

On Nov. 7, Nikola sent Tesla a cease-and-desist letter that “that identified the semi-truck design features Nikola was patenting and demanded that Tesla not unveil its semi until Tesla’s infringement had been resolved,” the lawsuit reads. “Tesla never responded.”

“Tesla does not have any patents protecting the design of its semi-truck and has not filed any applications for design patent protection.”

The Tesla Semi was unveiled just nine days later. The lawsuit alleges that “The Tesla Semi design is substantially similar to Nikola’s unique design, and Tesla copied Nikola’s patents.” 

It claims the wraparound windshield in particular is “identifiable from a distance.”

Do we have a classic patent troll case on our hands? Probably. On the other hand, come on. You’ve gotta admit, these trucks look pretty dang similar. 

Image: screenshot: monica chin/United States Court for the District of Arizona

“It’s patently obvious there is no merit to this lawsuit,” a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement to Mashable.

“The lawsuit speaks for itself,” a Nikola spokesperson told Mashable. “We are simply protecting our intellectual property.” Nikola’s lawyers could not be reached for comment. 

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