Baidu Accuses Former AV Executive of Stealing Secrets

You may have heard this story before. A tech giant sees the head of its self-driving car project leave to start his own autonomous vehicle company. The tech giant finds reason to believe its former employee stole intellectual property, and sues him and his new startup. A drawn-out drama ensues.

But this isn’t the story of Waymo and its lawsuit against Uber. However, the situation that Chinese Internet behemoth Baidu finds itself in is, at least in the early stages, mirroring the circumstances that played out when Waymo filed suit against its co-founder Anthony Levandowski and Uber, which acquired Levandowski’s autonomous truck startup Otto.

Like Google, Baidu first became known as a search engine. But it has since emerged as a player in the autonomous vehicle space. Now, Baidu is suing the Chinese self-driving startup JingChi. JingChi was founded in April by Wang Jing, a former AV executive at Baidu.

Baidu is suing for 50 million yuan, the equivalent of about $7.6 million.

In October, Reuters reported that Waymo unsuccessfully demanded $1 billion from Uber to settle its case, so Badiu’s suit is significantly lower stakes from a monetary perspective. But Baidu’s suit also asks JingChi to cease using any allegedly stolen technology in the development of its products. If it is determined that stolen technology is fundamental to JingChi’s operations, the company could be crippled.

In a written message to the South China Morning Post, Wang denied the allegations and stated that JingChi was preparing a more formal response to the accusations.

“Baidu’s lawsuit is entirely without basis. Our lawyers will respond factually and legally,” Wang wrote. “Our headquarters will move back to China and within two weeks we will showcase our technological capabilities.”

Wang also told the paper that JingChi was China’s leader in self-driving car technology. That claim would find few supporters, as Baidu is by far the country’s best-known AV developer. Its open source autonomous driving platform Apollo has over 70 partners throughout various sub-sectors of connected automotives, many of them high-profile automakers. In July, Baidu partnered with Microsoft to leverage the American tech company’s Azure cloud platform to optimize Apollo. In September, Baidu unveiled Apollo 1.5 and is set to launch Apollo 2.0 in Las Vegas on January 8.

But perhaps there is reason for Baidu to be wary of Wang and JingChi. Less than six months into its existence, JingChi raised $52 million in a pre-A round of fundraising led by Qiming Venture and Nvidia GPU Ventures. Nvidia is among Baidu’s most prominent partners.

For its part, Baidu — a company whose CEO once live-streamed an illegal ride in a self-driving car — is remaining quiet regarding the lawsuit.

“The case has now entered the judicial process and for further information please look to publicly disclosed information from the courts,” the company noted in a statement

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *