Wisk Aero has escalated its legal action against rival eVTOL developer Archer Aviation, asking a federal judge to prohibit Archer from using or disclosing what Wisk contends are stolen trade secrets.
Wisk, a joint venture between Boeing and Kitty Hawk, filed its motion for preliminary injunction May 19 in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. It specifies a list of asserted trade secrets that are redacted from public records but which relate to critical elements of Archer’s aircraft, systems, and component designs, as well as manufacturing processes and test data. It further requests expedited discovery in Wisk’s civil case against Archer for theft of trade secrets and patent infringement.
Wisk also stated that it is fully cooperating with the FBI and Department of Justice in their criminal investigation relating to the theft and use of Wisk’s intellectual property by a former Wisk employee who now works for Archer. Last month, Archer and Atlas Crest Investment Corp (NYSE: ACIC), the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that seeks to take Archer public, disclosed that Archer had placed an employee on paid administrative leave in connection with a government investigation and a search warrant. A source close to Archer told eVTOL.com that Archer has since been informed that neither the company nor its senior management are targets of the criminal investigation.
“The theft of our highly confidential files, the virtual copy of Wisk’s design from a confidential patent application, and Archer’s startlingly short operational history make clear that Archer’s program is built on Wisk’s intellectual property, as we outlined in our complaint,” a Wisk spokesperson told eVTOL.com by email. “Today, with our motion for a preliminary injunction, we are asking the court to stop Archer from using the valuable trade secrets stolen from Wisk.”
An Archer spokesperson responded: “This a baseless motion in a baseless lawsuit. Archer independently designed its aircraft, before any employees from Wisk joined Archer, and Archer looks forward to demonstrating that in court. Archer is moving forward with its business plans, including the development, certification, and production of its proprietary aircraft.”
Founded by Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein, Archer emerged from stealth in May 2020. Its team boasts a number of engineers poached from Wisk, including VP of engineering Tom Muniz.
Wisk contends that some of those employees took with them confidential and highly valuable files that “collectively represent years and countless hours of research, development, and testing by hundreds of Wisk engineers.” Its May 19 motion identifies a senior power electronics engineer as the employee who allegedly downloaded nearly 5,000 files from Wisk’s secure corporate Google Drive repository before his abrupt departure from Wisk on Jan. 10, 2020.
In June of that year, Wisk says, it reported the alleged theft to the District Attorney for Santa Clara County, who referred the matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with the Department of Justice also becoming involved. “In the absence of additional evidence that Archer was using the stolen files, Wisk believed its best option was to defer to the authorities to handle the investigation,” Wisk states in its latest motion.
The company says its stance changed in February 2021, when Archer, “for the first time, revealed the details of a fully developed aircraft — a spitting image of a figure from Wisk’s confidential patent application, filed more than a year earlier.” The correspondence between the two aircraft is the basis of Wisk’s claim of patent infringement.
“The similarities between the two companies’ designs could not have been a coincidence or the result of independent development by Archer,” Wisk’s latest motion states. “It does not take a PhD in aerospace engineering to recognize the similarities.”
This story has been updated to clarify that a former Wisk employee who now works for Archer is the subject of a criminal investigation, not Archer itself.