Nikola Motor Company has filed a lawsuit in Arizona alleging that Tesla’s all-electric Semi infringes on the hydrogen truck startup’s patents. The lawsuit claims Tesla wilfully copied these patents in creating its electric truck, and Nikola is seeking $2 billion in damages in return.
“It’s patently obvious there is no merit to this lawsuit,” a spokesperson for Tesla told The Verge. A representative for Nikola Motors said in a statement to The Verge that “we are not commenting because it is in the courts. The lawsuit speaks for itself.”
In the complaint, Nikola alleges that Tesla’s electric truck design infringes on a series of 3 specific design patents that they recently obtained for the design of a few features of their Nikola One truck unveiled in 2016 – a year before Tesla unveiled its own electric truck.
Tesla released a teaser image of its semi in April 2017, and Nikola says it emailed Tesla in November, just a week before a Tesla Semi prototype was to be shown to the public, to tell Tesla that some of the design features in its April teaser image infringed on Nikola's then-patent-pending design. Nikola says it demanded "that Tesla not unveil its Semi until Tesla's infringement had been resolved."
"Tesla never responded," Nikola claims.
“The Tesla Semi is substantially similar to Nikola’s unique design, and Tesla copied Nikola’s patents,” the lawsuit states.
“Tesla’s infringement has harmed Nikola’s plans by causing confusion in the market… The confusion has diverted sales from Nikola to Tesla. Further, any problems with the Tesla Semi will be attributed to the Nikola One, causing harm to the Nikola brand.”
Nikola says that Tesla’s truck is causing “confusion in the market,” and claims that “Tesla’s infringement has harmed Nikola’s ability to attract investors and partners because investors can now partner with Tesla to have an alternative fuel semi-truck.” The damage from this alleged infringement, per Nikola’s calculations, is “in excess of $2 billion.”
Nikola has sparred with Tesla before, including how it chose to use the first name of the same famous investor when founding the company. Most recently, Nikola claimed in April that, while it has over $8 billion in preorders for the different versions of its semi trucks, all those reservations will “be refunded 100%” and the startup “won’t use your money to operate our business” — statements that appear to be obvious barbs at Tesla, which holds nearly $1 billion in customer deposits for the Model 3 and other various announced products, according to recent filings.