In what is being described as symptomatic of the “cutthroat” world of solar energy, San Jose-based SunPower Corp. (Nasdaq: SPWRA) sued SolarCity on Monday, Feb. 13, for reportedly accepting what it knew were stolen documents.
SunPower, a major solar panel manufacturer located in the Bay Area, which in 2010 produced the world’s most efficient solar cell, alleges that a former employee, Thomas Leyden, left the company to go to work for SolarCity, another solar company developing record solar efficiencies, taking at least three jump drives worth of internal documents with him when he left.
Then, to add insult to injury, he also convinced four SunPower employees to join him at SolarCity, and each of these employees also stole data from the company. SolarCity does not make solar equipment. Instead, it acts as a full-service solar provider by arranging everything from permitting through installation for those wanting to lease systems (including a power purchase agreement for businesses).
Leyden was managing director of SunPower’s East Coast headquarters. The employees named in the complaint, in addition to Leyden, are Matt Giannini, Dan Leary, Felix Aguayo and Alice Cathcart. All had signed NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements) that legally prevented them from recruiting employees for up to two years after their employment with SunPower was terminated.
In Leyden’s case, he downloaded “highly confidential” information about major SunPower customers who had jointly generated $100 million in sales during 2011, and this information is what allowed him to recruit other SunPower employees.
In Aguayo’s case, he accessed the (SunPower) company’s e-mail server and downloaded information after he was terminated – information he then forwarded to his personal e-mail account.
In all, the stolen data is described by one SunPower executive as “taking years to develop independently.”
SunPower reportedly discovered the data theft via a forensic analysis of the computers used by the five, and is now seeking criminal prosecution in addition to civil damages (for loss of business) and injunctive relief, the latter of which would prevent SolarCity from using the information it had acquired.
The lawsuit is being filed under a California penal code governing computer data access and fraud.
SolarCity is a private company which was reportedly planning to issue an IPO through financial firm Goldman Sachs this year. The IPO values the company at $1.5 billion.
Any opinion contained in this article is solely that of the writers, and does not necessarily shape or reflect the editorial opinions of Energy Boom. Energy Boom content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be advice regarding the investment merits of, or a recommendation regarding the purchase or sale of, any security identified on, or linked through, this site.