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Shocking Development in Nikola Patent Dispute Against Tesla

By George Khoury, Esq. on September 19, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last month, Tesla Motors succeeding in getting approval for the Tesla Semi (electric heavy truck) design patent. Notably though, that same design got the company sued for patent infringement by Nikola Motors earlier this year.

The two trucks' designs are rather similar, as any casual observer can see, and adding insult to the lawsuit, Nikola claims that Tesla's bad press, including batteries catching fire and self-driving vehicle crashes, harms Nikola's reputation as a result of Tesla's infringing design. But for Nikola, that claim just got a little worse thanks to the USPTO.

Design Patent Granted

For Tesla, the design patent on the Tesla Semi has been a long time coming. The company filed for the patent nearly a year ago. And as commentators have noted, the patent being granted will surely put an additional roadblock up for Nikola's case. In short, Nikola's going to have to prove that apart from Tesla's design being infringing, that the patent examiner got it wrong.

Another problem some alternative fuel pundits explain is that Tesla is so far ahead of Nikola in terms of production and testing. Nikola Motors actually issued refunds on preorder deposits it received in April, before it ever sued Tesla.

Distinguishable Design

For most people, the two trucks may be distinguishable enough, but for companies like Tesla and Nikola Motors that invest truckloads of money into research and development, "distinguishable enough" just doesn't cut it.

Though the pundits seem to suggest that Nikola should simply tuck its tail between its legs and retreat, these same pundits likely don't have the same expertise as a corporate GC thinking long term about what the design means to the company, and how a competitor's similar design could impact the company.

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