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SunPower Sues SolarCity, Former Employees Over Data Theft

Corporate espionage always makes for a tantalizing read, and here is a new script that pits a veteran solar company against an upstart: SunPower is suing five former employees and SolarCity over what it says is a misappropriation and use of confidential data.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in a U.S. District Court and first reported by Justia.com, SunPower says the five employees used their own USB drives to download “tens of thousands of computer files” including quotes, contracts, pricing lists and business forecasts and analyses, plus forecasts for SunPower’s solar panels in the next four years.

The lead culprit seems to be Tom Leyden, who was a managing director before leaving SunPower last August for SolarCity. SunPower contends that Leyden also downloaded from the company’s database at Salesforce.com information about major sales over $100 million through 2011 and the employees who worked on those deals.

As a result, Leyden then recruited some of these employees while he already had started at SolarCity, the lawsuit said. Leyden worked at SunPower from 2000 to 2011. One of the people recruited by Leyden was Dan Leary, a senior project manager at SunPower, which alleges that Leary downloaded sensitive data within days of leaving SunPower. The stories are similar for the three other defendants, and all five of them then transferred the data to computers at SolarCity, SunPower said.

SolarCity’s spokesman Jonathan Bass emailed a statement regarding the lawsuit: 

"SolarCity’s commercial market share has grown significantly in the past few years and this growth threatens SunPower. Over the past few months, following its acquisition by a foreign oil company, a number of SunPower’s best salespeople decided to join SolarCity. SolarCity has created a leading service offering and a dynamic work environment to attract the best people in the industry; just yesterday we were named the 10th most innovative company in the world by Fast Company Magazine. SunPower is apparently taking exception to that. 

SolarCity upholds high standards in operational integrity for itself and its employees. SolarCity takes trade secret issues very seriously and we will ensure that we act in accordance with the law." 

SunPower became suspicious of data theft last December after it founded out that one of the defendants and former project development director, Felix Aguayo, was able to access his computer at SunPower even though he already had been let go. An investigation showed that Aguayo had forwarded some of his SunPower emails about customer information, price lists and market reports to his personal account in November, SunPower said. The company then looked into the computer files of the four other former employees since all of them left the company around the same time.

SunPower is asking the court to require the defendants to return the data they allegedly took without permission and to provide an account of any sales or profits that they gained as a result of using the data.

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