Boeing Stole Tech From Electric Plane Startup, Federal US Jury Finds

Boeing Stole Tech From Electric Plane Startup, Federal US Jury Finds

A federal jury found that Boeing misappropriated trade secrets from Zunum, a failed electric plane startup. The aircraft manufacturer was a sizable investor in Zunum through its venture capital division, Horizon X. The electric startup claims that Boeing launched a targeted campaign to steal proprietary information to develop its own hybrid-electric aircraft, Reuters reports. Boeing claims it only developed a mock-up to determine the feasibility of Zunum’s planned plane.

Zunum first revealed details about its planned revolutionary aircraft in 2017. The startup promised to deliver a hybrid plane with quick-swappable batteries integrated into the wings. The plane would have carried nine passengers with a range of up to 700 miles. The intention was to disrupt the regional jet market with an extremely fuel-efficient, low-emissions plane. However, this plane never materialized. By 2019, Zunumu ran out of money and collapsed. According to the Seattle Times, the startup’s demise wasn’t unexpected:

In its response to the lawsuit, Boeing’s lawyers wrote that the story of Zunum’s demise was simply that of a typical failed startup.

“An ambitious startup’s reach exceeded its grasp, and investors fled,” Boeing’s filing states. “What preliminarily looked like an interesting investment prospect that promised a new hybrid electric or electric aircraft turned into a loss for Boeing.”

Rather than developing its own hybrid-electric design, Boeing said it developed only a “conceptual mock-up — a tool that Boeing used to evaluate the feasibility of the type of aircraft that Zunum hoped to build.”

The conclusion it drew from that mock-up was that “electric aircraft likely would not be economically viable for commercial passenger flights anytime soon.”

Boeing said other potential Zunum investors drew the same conclusion. It characterized the lawsuit as “Zunum’s latest attempt to extract more money from Boeing.”

The jury awarded Zunum $US81 million in damages. U.S. District Judge James Robart could decide to triple that amount. Boeing isn’t finished with this case. In a statement, the company declared it would make all available challenges to the judgment. It could be years until this is all said and done. Boeing is still facing criminal charges over the 737 Max’s two crashes.


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