SunPower files lawsuit against SunEdison, former employees for poaching trade secrets

Filed with the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, SunPower alleges that more than 20 employees from Spain and the U.S. left the Northern Californian solar system manufacturer between 2011 and 2014 to work for "direct" competitor, SunEdison, also based in the U.S.

In the filing submitted by attorneys Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear LLP, SunPower states its former employees contacted other SunEdison employees "to solicit and encourage" them to move to SunEdison. The company also says several of its former employees copied a large amount of data, including trade secrets, from SunPower before leaving to join SunEdison.

On May 25, the Court of Milan said it was likely that former SunPower employees had taken confidential data and passed it on to SunEdison. According to Law 360, the court then "allegedly issued an ex parte order requiring SunEdison to allow SunPower to search the contents of files, servers, personal computers, USB drives and CD-ROMs belonging to SunEdison’s Italian subsidiaries and seven former SunPower employees."

Finger pointing

In yesterday’s filing, SunPower states that "[Vikas] Desai, SunEdison’s President of Residential and Small Commercial, personally solicited and encouraged some SunPower employees to leave SunPower to join SunEdison."

Based on forensic analysis of laptops and work accounts, former area sales manager for SunPower, Shane Messer and former SunPower senior director, global brand, Kendall Fong are also accused of stealing around 14,000 files containing trade secrets, including propriety dealer information, distribution channel strategy information, market research and sales roadmaps in order to compete with SunPower.

Overall, 14 causes of action have been filed, including computer fraud and abuse, trade secret misappropriation and breach of contract.

SunPower is reportedly seeking any profits or revenues allegedly obtained by Messer, Fong and SunEdison as a result of any disclosure or use of trade secrets or proprietary information.

Financials

SunEdison is the largest renewable energy company globally. In addition to the formation of its recent yieldco platforms, it entered the wind energy marketplace at the end of last year with the US$2.4 billion acquisition of First Wind. India’s Economic Times reports that it is now in negotiations to take over Continuum Wind Energy in Mumbai.

"SunEdison has already made a non-binding offer, valuing Continuum Wind Energy at Rs 3,720-3,900 crore ($620-650 million), inclusive of its debt, according to the people cited," wrote the Economic Times. Overall, SunEdison is reportedly aiming to install 15.2 GW of wind and solar energy in India over the next five years.

In the first three months of 2015, SunEdison saw its net loss slide from $288 million in Q4 2014, to $424 million. The company’s net sales also dropped both quarterly and annually, from $406 million in Q4 2014 and $340 million in Q1 2014, to $323 million.

SunPower, meanwhile, recorded a net loss of $9.6 million in Q1, compared to a net profit of $134.7 million in Q4. Its yieldco related costs came in at $9.9 million.