The era of electric aircraft may still be years away, but the conflict over this market is already raging.
On Tuesday, Wisk Aero, a startup that develops an electric aircraft that takes off as a helicopter and then flies like an airplane, filed a lawsuit against another startup, Archer Aviation, accusing it of stealing trade secrets and violating Wisk patents.
The lawsuit highlights to the public a dispute between two companies immersed in a field that has become a playground for billionaires. It also involved the Giants of aviation and Technology, explained whiskey is a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk, funded by Larry Page, who co-founded Google.
Archer’s investors include United Airlines, a major customer of Boeing and plans to buy up to 200 aircraft from the startup.
The niche market for electric cars and airplanes has become feverish in recent months, with so-called blank cheque companies, which have little more than a stock market listing and a quantity of cash, snapping up startups with little or no return, let alone profits.
Investors in blank check companies, officially known as special purpose acquisition companies, are hoping to acquire companies they believe can follow Tesla’s recent path in the stock market.
To attract these investors, startups like Archer are pledging to offer optimistic business plans and first-class technology.
Wisc alleges in its lawsuit that the intellectual property promoted by Archer as part of its merger was stolen by engineers the company had hired from Wisc.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses engineers of downloading thousands of files containing classified designs and data before leaving Wisc to join Archer. Wiske accused a third engineer of erasing the history of his activities from the computer before leaving for Archer.
“Wisc is filing this lawsuit to stop the flagrant theft of its intellectual property and confidential information and to protect the significant investment of resources, years of hard work and effort of its employees and their vision of the future in civil air transport,”the lawsuit states.
“It is unfortunate that Wisc intervened in a lawsuit in an attempt to distract attention from the labor issues that have caused so many of its employees to leave,”Archer said in a statement. “The plaintiff raised these matters more than a year ago, and after careful consideration, we have no reason to believe that Wisc’s technological ownership has made its way to Archer. We intend to defend ourselves vigorously”.
Archer also said she placed an employee accused in the lawsuit on paid leave “in connection with a government investigation and a search warrant issued against the employee, which we believe focuses on his behavior before he joined the company.”
Archer said she and 3 staff members who worked with the person involved in the investigation were summoned and are cooperating with the authorities. The whiskey was described the case as a criminal investigation and said it’s cooperating with the government.
Intellectual property lawsuits are not rare in promising industries that are rapidly developing, as Page knows all too well. In one recent case, Waymo, a company owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google, accused one of its former employees and Uber of stealing trade secrets to gain an advantage in developing self-driving cars.
The two companies settled the case in 2018, former Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski, a former close associate of Page, was sentenced in 2020 to 18 months in prison, and pardoned by former President Donald Trump in January.
Archer announced its merger in February with Atlas crest investment, a special purpose acquisition, in a deal that valued the company at 3 3.8 billion. Wisk said her suspicions were confirmed at the time when Archer released an offer that included designs similar to those found in Wisk’s patent filing.
Wiske says her Kora aircraft can fly with two passengers for about 25 miles at a speed of about 100 miles per hour. Archer says it is developing an aircraft that can carry up to 4 people in a 60-mile flight, at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, and both are being designed to fly autonomously.
Other companies trying to make electric aircraft include Joby Aviation, which announced a صفقة 6.6 billion deal with a special-purpose acquisition led by LinkedIn co-founder Reed Hoffman in February, and a German startup, Lilium, which went public last month by merging with a special-purpose acquisition led by Barry Engel, a former General Motors executive.
These deals are just a small slice of the activity of special-purpose acquisition companies this year, as investors, celebrities and athletes race to take part in Wall Street’s new favorite game. So far this year, 299 special-purpose acquisitions have raised 9 97 billion, according to research firm SPAC Research, which is more than in the whole of 2020.
But regulators and some investors say more scrutiny is needed. The Securities and Exchange Commission published two notices last month warning companies considering mergers with special purpose acquisition companies to make sure they are ready for all the legal and regulatory requirements required of an IPO.
Many investors known as short sellers, who specialise in betting on falling corporate share prices, have targeted special purpose acquisition companies such as Atlas crest, one of the 20 most traded overdrafts.
© New York Times Foundation 2021