Nikola Sues Tesla, Alleging Semi Truck Patent Infringements

Nikola claims Tesla's semi truck design is 'substantially' similar to its own.

Nikola Motor is suing Tesla, and remarkably it has nothing to do with the fact that both companies are named after a certain Serbian-American inventor. Nikola is suing Tesla over the Silicon Valley's semi truck design, alleging patent infringement.

Nikola claims the Tesla Semi is "substantially" similar to its own. The complaint seems to relate mostly to exterior design. In the lawsuit, Nikola mentioned six patents its was awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office between February and April 2018 for the Nikola One semi truck's wraparound windshield, mid-entry door, body shape, fenders, side cladding, and "overall design," according to Reuters.

Under the skin, there is one major difference between the two trucks. The Tesla is battery-electric, while the Nikola relies mostly on hydrogen fuel cells for power, with a secondary lithium-ion battery pack. Nikola first showed its truck in May 2016, saying at the time that it would be powered by natural gas (that may still be a possibility for certain markets). Tesla unveiled its truck in November 2017, although CEO Elon Musk had discussed it for some time prior to that.

"Nikola estimates its harm from Tesla's infringement to be in excess of $2 billion," the company said in its lawsuit filing. Tesla rejected Nikola's claims.

"It’s patently obvious there is no merit to this lawsuit," a Tesla spokesperson told The Drive.

Both companies are still working to get their semi trucks into production. Tesla has said its truck will start production in 2019, but the company is currently focusing on ramping up production of the Model 3 electric car, and has no experience building large commercial vehicles. Nikola is a startup that has never built any vehicles at all. It doesn't plan to start road testing prototype trucks until later this year, and won't start production until 2020 at the earliest.