SolarCity accused of misappropriating solar company Cogenra’s trade secrets

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Solar company Cogenra is suing Elon Musk’s SolarCity over the use of shingling technology the company alleges SolarCity took from Cogenra and used to create a world-record breaking solar panel.

Cogenra says it shared its “most precious and confidential trade secrets, manufacturing processes, and other intellectual property with Silevo and SolarCity” between 2010 and 2014.

Silevo is a subsidiary of SolarCity and the complaint alleges these trade secrets gave SolarCity a leg up in manufacturing its own solar cells.

“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,” Cogenra said in the suit.

The complaint also says Cogenra began shopping itself around to bigger solar companies in 2014 and, according to sources who spoke to Bloomberg, one of those companies considered a potential buyer was SolarCity. The possible acquisition allegedly gave SolarCity access to classified information.

However, SolarCity calls the lawsuit “meritless” and says the whole thing began after it alerted SunPower to an ex-SolarCity employee who had unlawfully downloaded confidential information from the company and recently joined SunPower, Cogenra’s parent company, as a senior sales manager.

“Instead of taking responsibility and ensuring the return of our misappropriated trade secrets, SunPower subsidiary Cogenra raced to court to divert attention from its conduct by filing a meritless lawsuit,” SolarCity told TechCrunch. “Cogenra’s complaint fails to identify any actual trade secret that Cogenra owns, much less that SolarCity supposedly misappropriated.  We are confident the court ultimately will reject Cogenra’s claims, which are factually and legally baseless.”

SolarCity also maintains its technology had nothing to do with Cogenra’s and that many companies like them have developed their own solar technology and that it offered to show Cogenra evidence it developed its technology outside of any information it may have obtained from Cogenra.

“The facts are not helpful to SunPower, so Cogenra sued without bothering to learn them,” a SolarCity spokesperson said.

Khosla Ventures, which owned 80 percent of Cogenra from 2009 to 2015, is also suing SolarCity in the case. Both Khosla and SunPower are calling SolarCity’s statement false.