Former Execs of EV Startup Canoo Accused of Stealing Tech for Their Own Startup

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on January 4, 2023

Many faced difficulties in 2022, and the electric vehicle (EV) startup Canoo was no exception. However, the company seemed to be getting the hang of things as the year went on, even forming partnerships that positioned it for a turnaround. Yet, in the face of positive change, the EV startup is now suing former executives for stealing company secrets to start a competing business.

Canoo claims it was a planned effort: According to the EV startup, the former executives joined the company solely to steal trade secrets. They then left to start their own EV company called Harbinger. The allegations include the theft of intellectual property, trade secret policy violations, breach of employee separation agreements, breach of confidentiality, fraud, and more.

  • Harbinger launched in September under the joint effort of former executives from Canoo, Faraday Future, and QuantumScape.
  • The new startup is looking to enter the growing commercial EV market with vehicles that offer advanced technology and a classic look.
  • The lawsuit names CEO John Harris, CTO Philip Weicker, and COO Will Eberts, among others.

The filing said, “This is a case of corporate espionage by a group of serial grifters who infiltrated Canoo to steal its intellectual property (including its confidential information and trade secrets) and human capital.” It continued to state that the executives in question planned things from the start, always intending to “own and control their own EV company.”

Additionally, according to the filing, “Weicker, Charbonneau, and Eberts misappropriated vast amounts of Canoo’s financial resources, business plans, human capital, trade secrets, and other intellectual property, and conspired with Harris (who was employed elsewhere) to form Harbinger using Canoo’s stolen intellectual property.”

Canoo also stated that Harbinger strategically sniped employees: It was not simple recruitment, either. The allegations state that Harbinger used confidential information about its employees, including skills and training, to ultimately recruit a minimum of 33 employees.

  • Canoo made big hires outside of the recruitment of Canoo employees, such as former Tesla manufacturing VP Gilbert Passin.
  • The employees taken from Canoo accounted for around two-thirds of Harbinger’s workforce.

It revolves around the “skateboard” technology: Canoo calls its EV technology “skateboard” because it is a flat, independently driveable platform that allows for highly modular configurations. It includes vital components, such as the battery, suspension, wheels, and other parts. In many ways, it is what makes the startup’s electric vehicles stand out, making its theft a big deal.

Considering the importance of the “skateboard” tech, Canoo is determined to protect its intellectual property. A spokesperson at the company commented, ”As this lawsuit demonstrates, we take the protection of our IP seriously.”

Canoo had a shaky year in 2022, but it turned it around: The startup found itself in trouble as production proved difficult. The challenges caused multiple changes to the company’s plan, and money trouble reared its head. At one point, there were even worries that Canoo might not make it through the year.

However, things started to turn around as the company landed a few deals. Walmart agreed to purchase 4,500 vehicles, and both the US Army and NASA made deals with the EV startup. It also started cooperating with Zeeba, a fleet management company, and Kingbee, a work-ready van rental provider.

The future looks bright for EVs: Beyond Canoo’s turnaround, there is also good news for EV companies everywhere. There is evidence that 2023 will be a good year for EVs, with tax credits, lithium price decreases, and increased popularity opening up plenty of opportunities for established companies and EV startups alike. But the promise of a good year to come only makes the stolen tech issue even more sensitive for the recovering startup.

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Spencer Hulse is the Editorial Director at Grit Daily. He is responsible for overseeing other editors and writers, day-to-day operations, and covering breaking news.

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