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Start-up Smartcar accuses bigger rival Otonomo of stealing intellectual property

Smartcar, a start-up company specialized in helping developers build apps for connected cars, claims a much larger competitor named Otonomo has stolen its intellectual property. It published a series of screenshots on its official blog to back up its assertion.

There is no connection between Smartcar and the Daimler-owned automaker that has made pocket-sized, Smart-branded city cars since 1998. Instead, Smartcar makes tools developers use to create apps that put people on wheels. Software engineers have used its API to build car-sharing apps, for example. It’s this API that it claims Otonomo shamelessly copied word for word, and posted on its website for the world to see.

“We didn’t just find a few vague similarities to Smartcar’s documentation. Otonomo’s docs are a systematically written rip-off of ours — from the overall structure, right down to code samples, and even typos,” the company explained in a blog post. It provided several screenshots taken on April 16, 2019, to support its accusations.

It’s not unheard of for lines of code that perform essentially the same function to look similar, and even for some basic lines of code to be identical, but the fact that Smartcar’s typos show up in Otonomo’s documents is suspicious. It sounds like 7th grade-level cheating. Smartcar’s API is available online, so anyone can download it, explore it, and copy it.

The stand-off could morph into the tech equivalent of the battle between David and Goliath. Valued at approximately $370 million, Israel-based Otonomo has received $55 million in funding from a series of big-name investors like Aptiv/Delphi, Dell, Hearst, and SK Telecom. It employs about 100 people, according to its LinkedIn page. California-based Smartcar, on the other hand, is a much more compact operation with 20 employees. It’s backed by $12 million in funding received from smaller companies.

Smartcar told Digital Trends via email that it sent Otonomo a cease-and-desist order in a bid to claim back its intellectual property. It hasn’t announced what’s next; it could stop there, or it could take the case to court. Digital Trends reached out to Otonomo to get its side of the story, but the company didn’t reply. We’ll update this article when we hear back.

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