CesiumAstro claims former exec spilled trade secrets to upstart competitor AnySignal


concept drawing of CesiumAstro
Image Credits: CesiumAstro (opens in a new window)

CesiumAstro alleges in a newly filed lawsuit that a former executive disclosed trade secrets and confidential information about sensitive tech, investors and customers to a competing startup.

Austin-based Cesium develops active-phased array and software-defined radio systems for spacecraft, missiles and drones. While phased-array antenna systems have been used on satellites for decades, Cesium has considerably advanced and productized the tech over its seven years in operation. The startup has landed more than $100 million in venture and government funding, which it has used to develop a suite of products for commercial and defense customers.

The technology is niche: Only a handful of companies work at the cutting edge of space-based radio technology, and Cesium no doubt pays close attention to any new entrant in this field. AnySignal, a startup that came out of stealth last October but was formally incorporated in 2022, certainly caught the company’s eye, not least because it allegedly edged out Cesium in a sales bid to a major customer and by attempting to solicit the interest of one of Cesium’s early investors — both examples stated in the lawsuit.

According to the suit, filed on March 25, these examples are directly related to former VP of Product Erik Luther’s misappropriation of trade secrets and confidential information on investors and customers, which Cesium alleges he subsequently disclosed to AnySignal. Notably, Luther did not leave Cesium to work for AnySignal, instead taking a role as head of marketing at a company that operates in a different sector entirely. But the suit says that Luther maintained “personal connections” with AnySignal’s co-founders, having worked with AnySignal CEO John Malsbury previously at a different company.

This resulted in AnySignal “recruiting and inducing Luther … to improperly disclose” the confidential and trade secret information, the suit says. CesiumAstro did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for comment; a lawyer representing Luther referred TechCrunch to the March 29 legal filings cited below.

Malsbury said in a statement provided to TechCrunch, “We at AnySignal were disappointed to learn of this filing. As indicated in Erik’s response, he is not, and has never been employed by AnySignal. We believe Cesium made these allegations in error. AnySignal is working with Cesium to resolve the dispute, and, if necessary, we will confidently defend our case in court. In the meantime, AnySignal will continue to prioritize mission success for our customers.”

Cesium is clear on its position in the lawsuit: It does not believe that AnySignal could have developed its complex radio technology on its timeline and with its existing resources — “absent CesiumAstro’s technical diagrams and specifications (to which Luther had access).”

“With only a few employees and $5 million in investor funding, [AnySignal] would not even be in the same orbit as CesiumAstro, which has spent tens of millions of dollars working with (now) 170 employees for seven years to develop its technologies,” the suit says. “But with Luther’s help, AnySignal has launched to directly compete with CesiumAstro in the specialized space for software-defined radios.”

Luther strongly denied all the allegations in two separate documents filed with the court on March 29; regarding the claim that he worked in concert with AnySignal, he says the allegation is “not only false…but invented out of whole cloth.” (The response also denies Cesium’s claim that it is an “industry leader.”)

Cesium “does not cite any facts or evidence whatsoever linking Luther and any of AnySignal’s business efforts and the alleged evidence that [Cesium] does cite do not support [its] contentions,” Luther’s lawyer claims in the filing. He goes on to say that Cesium takes a “Grand Canyon-sized leap from the paltry, easily explainable evidence it cites to the remarkable allegation that Luther has been secretly assisting AnySignal and feeding them [Cesium’s] trade secrets without citing any evidence whatsoever.”

El Segundo-based AnySignal was founded in May 2022 by Malsbury and COO Jeffrey Osborne, and emerged from stealth touting $5 million in seed funding last year. The company is developing a software-defined radio platform; Cesium’s lawsuit names it as a “direct competitor.” In February, a month before the suit was filed, AnySignal announced it had landed a partnership with private space station developer Vast for an advanced communication system for Vast’s flagship station, Haven-1.

The suit was filed in Western District of Texas under no. 1:24-cv-314.

The story has been updated to include Malsbury’s statement.

More TechCrunch

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

17 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

3 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

3 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies