Federal Judge Closes Nikola’s Lawsuit Against Tesla

A federal judge for the Northern District Court of California has administratively closed Nikola’s patent lawsuit against Tesla, claiming lack of communication from both companies and especially Nikola. The lawsuit sought $2 billion, alleging that Tesla infringed on patents related to the design of Nikola’s hydrogen-fueled big rig. The lawsuit also alleges that Tesla attempted to poach key talent away from Nikola.

Outwardly, Nikola’s planned semi truck does look similar to the Tesla Semi. Nikola alleges that Tesla copied the design for the wraparound windshield, mid-entry doors, and aerodynamic fuselage, which the plaintiff says could cause “confusion in the market” and cost Nikola billions of dollars in sales.

Nikola has faced its share of problems, including a fraud investigation targeting founder and former CEO Trevor Milton, who is accused of fraudulently short selling research firm Hidenberg Research. Milton is also accused of faking a marketing video that claims to show Nikola’s big rig driving, though some say that it is just rolling down a hill. He denies the allegations, though he is currently in custody.

The allegations may have been a factor in the derailment of a deal in which General Motors would have bought a minority stake in Nikola. The deal had gotten as far as a highly publicized Memorandum of Understanding. Nikola had also signed a deal with General Motors for batteries, fuel cells, and manufacturing.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2018 and the two companies spent three years tangled up in disputes over which patents were even in question. Tesla once even claimed that Nikola copied some design elements from Croatian automaker Rimac Automobili. Tesla has also disputed the legitimacy of some claims with the U.S. Patent and Copyright Office, though that dispute fell through.

Tesla has further said that there is “no merit in this lawsuit.” In response to other lawsuits against Tesla, Elon Musk has said that he isn’t afraid to fight lawsuits against his companies that he believes to be a blatant cash grab in court. One of the most blatant cash grabs was a lawsuit filed by a Tesla owner who had fallen asleep at the wheel and fatally struck a bicyclist.

Nikola claimed that Tesla’s attempt to poach its chief engineer was evidence that its rival intended to copy its semi truck design.

The Northern District Court of California says that Nikola has until October 6 to send a written response explaining why its case against Tesla should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute. Judge James Donato says Nikola simply “dropped the ball” with this lawsuit, leaving it to languish “without explanation or apparent good cause.” This could mean a sorry end for a legal action that has been quite contentious for the two rival companies for three straight years.

Neither Nikola nor Tesla have responded to media requests for comment about the closing of the lawsuit. Nikola says that it could start producing its truck by early next year. According to Elon Musk, Tesla may begin manufacturing the Semi sometime next year and the holdup is its ability to produce battery cells that is suitable for use in the Semi.