Tesla is a company rarely out of the headlines. Whether its founder Elon Musk is sending cars into space, or its self-driving cars are causing a furore, everyone is familiar with the progressive tech company.

Just some of the controversies over the last few months include speculation over Tesla’s ability to produce the number of Model 3 sedans needed, arguments over whether Tesla tech was responsible for a fatal car accident and Wall Street speculating when (or if) the company will run out of cash. And now, there’s a $2 billion patent lawsuit facing Tesla.

Nikola Motor V Tesla

Just last week, Nikola Motor filed a suit against Tesla on the grounds that they stole Nikola’s patented tech to use on their electric semi-truck. Nikola Motor may not be as well known as Tesla, but they’re a zero-emission start-up also working on the cutting edge of tech from their base in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Aside from the bizarre coincidence that Nikola is now suing Tesla (it would be interesting to see what Nikola Tesla would have thought!), this is a major patent lawsuit.

Six design patents

Nikola Motor asserted in Arizona federal court that it had been granted six design patents between February and April 2018. Issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office, the patents were for various technical constituents of its truck design, including the wraparound windshield, fuselage, side cladding, fender, mid-entry door and the overall design of the vehicle, which is called Nikola One.

The timeline

Nikola Motor filed design patents on its Class 8 truck back in December 2015. A year later they revealed a real-world prototype of the truck. In between these events, in July 2016, Elon Musk announced the start of development for his semi-truck.

Tesla then released an image of its truck in April 2017, prompting Nikola to email the company regarding copyright infringement on its design. They asked Tesla to not unveil the Semi until the infringement issue was resolved. However, according to Nikola, Tesla failed to respond. Nikola’s complaint goes on to note that Tesla’s stock shot up by roughly $2 billion after the announcement of its Semi. Nikola also claims that 7,000 trucks have been pre-sold and that “total reservations are currently worth more than $6.3 billion in revenue.”

They said: “Tesla’s design has caused confusion among customers. The confusion has diverted sales from Nikola to Tesla. Further, any problems with the Tesla Semi will be attributed to Nikola One, causing harm to the Nikola brand. For example, Tesla has had problems with its batteries starting fires and its autonomous features causing fatal accidents. Should these problems arise with the Tesla Semi, the market will attribute these problems to Nikola because of the similarities between the two vehicles.”

Still in development

Neither company have delivered a truck yet. In March 2018, Tesla sent two prototypes on their first journey from Nevada to Fremont, the California-based manufacturing facility. Nikola, meanwhile, says it will start delivering its trucks in 2021, although initial tests show that they will be roadworthy by the end of 2018.

Nikola plans to build 360 hydrogen fueling stations in the country, shift its HQ to Phoenix, Nevada and construct a massive manufacturing facility in Arizona. They clearly mean business, but can a start-up really ruffle the feathers of a company like Tesla?

Well, a Tesla spokesperson has responded to the suit with this: “It’s patently obvious there is no merit to this lawsuit.” Judging by that response, Tesla isn’t too concerned, but it remains to be seen how this will play out.