SolarCity sued over alleged intellectual property theft

Elon Musk’s solar power technology firm has come under scrutiny, amid accusations and counter-accusations of using stolen trade secrets

SolarCity and SunPower each allege that the other has used its solar technology without permission

SolarCity, the clean energy brainchild of business magnate Elon Musk, has been accused of intellectual property theft and misappropriating trade secrets in the development of its commercial solar panels.

On September 26, Cogenra Solar and its parent company SunPower filed a lawsuit, claiming that rival SolarCity had used Cogenra’s shingling technology to gain a competitive advantage in solar panel manufacturing. As part of the complaint, Cogenra accused SolarCity of sharing these confidential trade secrets with Silevo, a solar panel manufacturer that the energy giant has since acquired.

“It was only by misappropriating Cogenra’s proprietary technology, including its trade secrets and other intellectual property, that SolarCity and Silevo were later able to announce a claim that they set a new world record for solar energy efficiency”, Bloomberg reported Cogenra as saying.

While SolarCity prepares to defend its solar panel technology, it harbours its own intellectual property grievance against its accuser

SolarCity, however, maintains that it developed its own unique photovoltaic technology to create its highly efficient rooftop panels, including the manufacture of solar shingles. Shingling technology has been experiencing something of a boom in the solar energy market of late, as environmentally conscious consumers increasingly favour the minimalistic appearance of small shingle solar panels, which are designed to replicate the look of roof tiles.

While SolarCity prepares to defend its solar panel technology, it harbours its own intellectual property grievance against its accuser. Last week, the solar energy giant discovered that one of its former employees had illegally downloaded confidential SolarCity information and saved the data onto a personal hard drive, before leaving the company to accept a senior sales manager position at SunPower.

“Instead of taking responsibility and ensuring the return of our misappropriated trade secrets, SunPower subsidiary Cogenra raced to court to divert attention from its conduct by filing a meritless lawsuit”, SolarCity spokesman Jonathan Bass said in an email statement, according to Bloomberg.

With the solar rivals locked in a legal tit-for-tat over panel technology, any collaboration over low-cost solar cell data now seems unlikely, embittering the battle for the commercial rooftop market.

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