Tesla claims Nikola tricked PTO into obtaining design patents

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Three Nikola Inc. patents covering the design of its flagship “Nikola One” hydrogen semi-truck are invalid because it did not disclose a similar earlier truck design to the US Patent and Trademark Office, Tesla Inc. a San Francisco federal court said.

Nikola launched his hydrogen fuel cell-powered long-haul truck in 2016. He sued Tesla in 2018, alleging that Tesla’s semi-project infringed its design and utility patents as well as its trade dress. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California rejected Tesla’s attempt to dismiss Nikola’s design patent applications on September 9, ruling that the designs could be similar enough to prove infringement.

But Tesla argued that Nikola’s design patents were invalid because the design predated an older hydrogen truck.

According to Tesla, Adriano Mudri designed the Road Runner concept truck, which was entered in the 2010 Michelin Design Challenge and selected for display at the 2010 North American International Auto Show. Tesla says Nikola founder, Trevor Milton, met Mudri in 2014 or 2015.

Nikola’s patents would not have been granted if he had not intentionally concealed the Road Runner’s design from the PTO, Tesla says. Tesla also says Mudri should have been listed as an inventor on the patents.

Tesla asked the court to declare the patents invalid and that they do not infringe.

Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear LLP represents Tesla. Steyer Lowenthal Boodrookas Alvarez & Smith LLP and Beus Gilbert McGroder PLLC represent Nikola.

Judge James Donato presides.

The case is Nikola Corp. v. Tesla Inc., ND Cal., No. 3: 18-cv-07460, response filed 09/23/20.


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