Nikola suing Tesla over tractor design patent infringement claims

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Updated May 4, 2018

Nikola One Truck and Tesla Semi-TruckNikola Motor Company filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Tesla Inc., alleging the electric-car company infringed on several of its Class 8 truck design patents.

The hydrogen-electric truck startup claims Tesla’s Semi – set for production next year – violates Nikola patents for the truck’s fuselage design, mid-entry door and wrap-around windshield.

“The Tesla Semi design is substantially similar to Nikola’s unique design, and Tesla copied Nikola’s patents,” the filing claims.

Supporting its claim that the two designs are remarkably similar, Nikola pointed out the aerodynamic drag coefficient of both tractors is almost the same. The Tesla Semi claims a drag coefficient of 0.36, while Nikola One claims a drag coefficient of 0.37.

An ordinary observer would find that the Tesla Semi fuselage is substantially similar to the [Nikola] Fuselage Patent, and that Tesla infringes Nikola’s patent,” the filing says. 

A spokesperson for Tesla called the allegations meritless.

Nikola claims it has suffered damages of more than $2 billion by the alleged infringement, which it claims “has harmed Nikola’s plans by causing confusion in the market…The confusion has diverted sales from Nikola to Tesla.” Further, the suit claims, “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.”

When a spy photo of the Tesla Semi hit the Internet last year about a month ahead of its official debut, Nikola claims it sent a letter to Tesla notifying the company of Nikola’s pending patent applications, stating its belief that the electric Semi would infringe on those patents, “and demanded that Tesla refrain from unveiling its Semi,” the filing says.  

The suit requests a jury trial.

Nikola debuted its Nikola One tractor in Salt Lake City in December 2016, almost a year before Tesla showcased its electric Semi in Hawthorne, Calif.

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]