SunPower subsidiary suing SolarCity for IP theft


A subsidiary of U.S. solar developer SunPower yesterday filed a lawsuit against rooftop solar firm SolarCity in which it alleges that the Elon Musk-linked company misappropriated trade secrets concerning shingled solar-cell technology.

SunPower deploys the Cogenra shingle module assembly technology in its record-breaking X-Series modules, which achieved a panel conversion efficiency of 24.1% in June.

In the case Cogenra Solar Inc. v. SolarCity Corp., filed at the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California in San Francisco, Cogenra – which is owned by SunPower – accuses SolarCity of intellectual property (IP) theft whereby the firm gained insider knowledge of Cogenra’s Shingling technology.

According to Reuters, the filing states that SolarCity was able to gain a competitive advantage and head-start in developing shingled-cell modules that were both high in efficiency and commercially viable. SolarCity is accused of acquiring insights into the Cogenra shingle technology when the company was carrying out due diligence when it was considering acquiring the company.

Khosla Ventures, a venture capital firm that owned an 80% stake in Cogenra between 2009 and 2015, is also mentioned in the lawsuit.

"It was only by misappropriating Cogenra’s proprietary technology, including its trade secrets and other intellectual property, that SolarCity and Silevo were later able to announce a claim that they set a new world record for solar panel energy efficiency,” said Cogrena’s statement.

SolarCity instantly refuted the lawsuit, and issued a statement concerning the discovery last week that a former SolarCity employee had recently joined SunPower and shared unlawfully obtained confidential information with the company.

"Any unauthorized copying and use of this information is a very serious violation of SolarCity’s intellectual property rights, so we immediately notified SunPower," read a SolarCity statement. The rooftop solar company also said that the lawsuit filed by Cogenra against it failed to outline or identify any trade secret owned by Cogrena, "much less that SolarCity supposedly misappropriated [anything]".

Bloomberg adds that SolarCity has labeled Cogrena’s claim as "factually and legally baseless", and attacks the firm for ignoring its own claim that one of its former employees has shared confidential information with SunPower. "Instead of taking responsibility and ensuring the return of our misappropriated trade secrets," SolarCity spokesman Jonathan Bass told Bloomberg, "SunPower subsidiary Cogrena raced to court to divert attention from its conduct by filing a meritless lawsuit."

Khosla and SunPower hit back, calling SolarCity’s own statement "false" and adding that they were looking forward to the legal process "taking its course".