Nikola v. Tesla

The phrase "Nikola Tesla" used to bring to mind the famous inventor known for many things including his involvement in the "War of the Currents" and related intellectual property deals and disputes with Edison. Today, "Nikola v. Tesla" might become the more well-known phrase, again referring to a potential intellectual property and broader business war. But here, the battle is between two start-up heavy industry companies over heavy-duty electric truck technology.

Specifically, Nikola Industries filed suit alleging patent infringement by Tesla of its truck design in the US District Court for the District of Arizona. Tesla's complaint contains many shocking allegations regarding what appears to be unscrupulous business practices by Tesla, but what is most interesting from a patent strategy perspective is the design patent filings made by Nikola to protect their design. Specifcally, as discussed in previous posts (here, and here,,,), Nikola strategically claimed specific portions of their truck design to create a family of patents.

D811968 is illustrative of the approach, where Nikola claimed only the outline of the cab windshield.  Other patents claimed the outline of the cab, the fuselage, etc. The image below from the complaint compares the patented windshield design on the left to the Tesla design on the right. Note that the design is limited only to the outline of the windshield, as the remainder of the vehicle is dashed.

nikala v tesla.png

Nikola estimates damages to be in excess of $2 billion. 

While it likely cost Nikola a few extra thousand dollars to file a portfolio of design patents, they obviously see major value in their design and have developed an advanced strategy that might give Telsa significant heartache. While it seems like a joke that the lawsuit caption looks like the same as the famous inventor, this dispute is definitely no laughing matter.