Silicon Valley startups accuse each other of stealing aviation secrets

A legal dogfight is raging in Silicon Valley — with two deep-pocketed startups accusing each other of stealing futuristic airplane designs.

Archer Aviation — which archrival Wisk Aero sued this spring for allegedly stealing its plans for an electric-powered “air taxi” that’s capable of flying like both a plane and a helicopter — fired a legal salvo on Thursday claiming that Wisk is actually the real thief, The Post has learned.

Wisk — whose high-profile backers include Boeing and Google co-founder Larry Page’s company Kitty Hawk — first sued Archer Aviation in April, claiming it used designs stolen from Wisk to woo investors and drive up the value of a $3.8 billion blank-check deal it announced in February.

But now Archer — whose investors include United Airlines and the auto giant that controls Fiat-Chrysler and Ferrari, as well as Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez — is flipping the script, arguing that Wisk actually stole designs at the center of the case from Archer, according to documents filed in California federal court on Thursday.

Wisk’s case revolves around a side-by-side comparison of a design from a January 2020 Wisk patent application and a rendering from a February 2021 Archer investor presentation. 

Both companies’ images show a nearly identical aircraft using a “12-tilt-6” design — meaning the plane would have 12 rotors on a fixed wing, six of which can rotate downward in order to allow it to take off vertically. This would be a key advantage for an air taxi, allowing the craft to take off and land in crowded environments. 

Wisk Aero's new air taxi
Wisk Aero’s new air taxi
Wisk Aero
Attendees stand under the wings of the Archer Maker after its unveiling.
Attendees stand under the wings of the Archer Maker after its unveiling.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

Since Wisk’s patent application was filed a year before Archer presented the 12-tilt-6 concept to investors, Wisk claimed that Archer ripped off the design. Engineers who downloaded files from Wisk’s systems before quitting and joining Archer facilitated the theft, according to Wisk. 

Archer’s new suit, however, claims things are the other way around, and that Wisk actually stole the 12-tilt-6 design from Archer.

According to the new court documents from Archer, the company’s co-founders Brett Adcock and Adam Goldstein approached Wisk’s Chief Engineer Geoff Long in Palo Alto in December 2019 as part of an attempt to convince him to defect to their company.

During the meeting, Adcock and Goldstein allegedly revealed to Long that Archer was developing an aircraft using the 12-tilt-6 design. The co-founders reportedly believed they told Long about the plan in confidence as part of their plant to recruit him — and were shocked when Wisk filed its patent application for a 12-tilt-6-style plane in January 2020, just six weeks after their conversation. 

Court documents show the design dispute between Wisk and Archer Aviation.
Court documents show the design dispute between Wisk and Archer Aviation.
Court documents

“Wisk uses the application it created after Archer’s disclosure and including Archer’s design as a litigation and media prop to falsely accuse Archer of theft,” Archer wrote in Thursday’s court filing. 

In a statement to The Post, a Wisk spokesperson did not deny any specific accusations but said the company would see its rival in court. 

“Archer’s latest filing is full of inaccuracies and attempts to distract from the serious and broad scope of misappropriation claims it faces,” the spokesperson said. “The filing changes nothing. We look forward to continuing our case in court to demonstrate Archer’s improper use of Wisk’s intellectual property.”

In addition to counting now-split Rodriguez and Lopez among its backers, Archer also has secured investments from Stellantis, the auto giant that owns Fiat Chrysler and Ferrari, as well as venture capital firms Greycroft, Troy Capital Partners and Global Founders Capital. Wisk, meanwhile, is exclusively backed by Page’s Kitty Hawk and Boeing. 

Both companies have plans to sell autonomous, electric aircraft that can carry small groups of passengers on short trips, though neither is expected to launch a commercial product for several years. 

Archer plane
Archer’s new suit claims that Wisk actually stole the 12-tilt-6 design from Archer.
Archer Aviation

It’s unclear how the legal battle is affecting Archer’s plans to go public. When it first announced its SPAC deal in February, the company said it planned to finish the transaction by the end of June. 

An Archer spokesperson did not immediately reply for a request for comment on the company’s timeline for going public. 

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