Back in May, Tesla rival Nikola Motors filed a patent infringement case against the electric car maker. Nikola’s lawsuit claimed that the Tesla Semi copied several design elements of the Nikola One, the company’s hydrogen-electric sleeper cab that was unveiled in late 2016. Nikola is asking the courts for $2 billion in damages.
Among the design elements that the Tesla Semi allegedly copied were its wraparound windshield, its mid-entry front door, its front fenders, and the vehicle’s aerodynamic shape. Considering the similarities between the Semi and the Nikola One, the startup noted that it had lost potential customers. The trucking startup also claimed that problems associated with Tesla, such as its “batteries starting fires and its autonomous features causing fatal accidents,” could cause harm to the Nikola brand.
Tesla, for its part, has largely dismissed Nikola’s $2 billion lawsuit. After news of the patent infringement case emerged, a Tesla spokesperson simply noted that “it’s patently obvious there is no merit to (the) lawsuit,” and during the Q1 2018 earnings call, Elon Musk lightly noted that “fate loves irony,” considering that “Nikola is suing Tesla.”
While the legitimacy of Nikola Motors’ lawsuit against the Semi’s design is up for question, a patent granted to Tesla last month could very well be a nail in the coffin of the hydrogen-electric truck-maker’s case. On August 14, the US Patent Office awarded Tesla a pair of design patents for the Tesla Semi. Particularly notable was that the examiner from the US Patent Office actually indicated the Nikola One’s design in the design patents of Tesla’s all-electric trucks. As could be seen in the patent, which could be viewed here, the US Patent Office’s examiner deemed the Tesla Semi’s design as unique.
This is a big blow to Nikola’s case. If Nikola would still prefer to pursue its suit against Tesla, the hydrogen-electric truck startup would have to prove to the courts that the US Patent Examiner committed an error when the Semi and the One’s designs were being compared. Such a feat is very challenging to accomplish.
While the Nikola revealed the One almost a year earlier than the Semi, Tesla has pretty much caught up with the hydrogen-electric truck maker’s progress. Since its unveiling, the Tesla Semi has been racking up thousands of miles of real-world driving data as it travels across multiple states in the US. Over the past month alone, the Tesla Semi has been spotted visiting the facilities of some of its reservation holders such as J.B. Hunt, UPS, and Ruan Transportation Management Systems. Worm Capital analysts who toured Gigafactory 1 also noted that Tesla is preparing to start producing the Semi “earnestly” in 2020.
Nikola, for its part, is preparing to unveil its pre-production Nikola Two hydrogen-electric semi truck and hydrogen filling station next April. The event, which is set to be held in Phoenix, AZ, is expected to be invite-only. Nikola aims to build more than 700 hydrogen stations across the United States by 2028.
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