The Baidu vs JingChi dispute — China’s first ever lawsuit in the field of autonomous driving technology — has surprisingly ended up spawning a partnership between the two.
Baidu announced today that self-driving startup JingChi has joined its open-source autonomous driving platform Apollo as a cooperative partner. JingChi’s new CEO Tony Han said in a statement, “JingChi is pleased to join Apollo, and is willing to grow fast with Apollo’s help.”
JingChi’s technology is appealing to Baidu. Founded last April, JingChi was one of 2017’s fastest-growing self-driving startups, successfully completing its first open road autonomous driving testing in only 81 days.
Baidu’s Apollo is China’s state-of-the-art autonomous driving platform. It will provide JingChi with open-source data, codes and tools. Launched last July, Apollo has already attracted over 80 partners, from car makers to self-driving technology providers.
The Baidu – JingChi partnership emerges from a unique situation to say the least. Last December, Baidu filed a lawsuit in Beijing IP Court accusing JingChi and its Founder and then-CEO Jin Wang — who was a Baidu Senior VP before he started the company — of infringement on its commercial secrets, not returning devices that contained classified information, and poaching technical personnel.
Jin Wang initially dismissed the accusation, saying “Baidu’s prosecution is completely unfounded and JingChi lawyers will respond factually and legally.” However, two months later, JingChi released an official statement saying that Wang had left the company due to family issues.
Wang’s departure is widely believed to be the event that defused the dispute between Baidu and JingChi, and accelerated the settlement. Chinese media is reporting that although Baidu has dropped its lawsuit against JingChi, it is still suing Wang.
“Wang will not be directly or indirectly involved in or interfere with JingChi in any business dealings. JingChi has been fully prepared for the change, and will not be affected,” said Han.
The landmark settlement between Baidu and JingChi has tangible effects. JingChi is spared from the legal dispute, and can turn its full attention back to business. The company’s rapid growth might however be affected. An investor involved in JingChi fundraising said the recent dramas leave him needing more information and feedback before he can make an assessment on whether JingChi remains suitable for investment.
Baidu meanwhile has consolidated its leading position in China’s self-driving competition and asserted control over its IP. Over the last few years, Baidu has nurtured many AI talents who later left the company, founding startups such as Horizon.ai, a billion-dollar chip company, and Pony.ai, another rising self-driving startup which recently raised US$112 million.
With tech foes now becoming friends, China’s self-driving development looks like it will emerge the biggest winner.
Journalist: Tony Peng| Editor: Michael Sarazen