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SAN FRANCISCO | Tue., Feb. 14, 2012 2:59pm EST (Reuters) - SunPower is suing five former employees and SolarCity in U.S. federal court, accusing the five of stealing tens of thousands of confidential SunPower documents before they left to work for the rival solar firm.

The computer files contained contracts, proposals, price quotes, market analysis and, in one case, information about customers accounting for more than $100 million in SunPower sales throughout 2011, according to the SunPower lawsuit.

"SolarCity knowingly accepted these stolen computer files containing SunPower confidential information and non-confidential proprietary information," SunPower said in a complaint filed on Monday in federal court for the Northern District of California.

A spokeswoman for San Jose, California-based SunPower, which is now majority owned by French oil company Total SA, declined to comment further on the case.

SolarCity responded by saying its market share growth was threatening to 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 said in a statement on Tuesday. "SunPower is apparently taking exception to that."

The firm added: "SolarCity takes trade secret issues very seriously and we will ensure that we act in accordance with the law."

SunPower said it discovered on December 9 that Aguayo had accessed his company email after his last day on Nov. 1, forwarding emails containing information, price lists and market reports to his personal email address in mid-November.

This prompted an investigation of computers used by Aguayo and the other four, based on the proximity of their departure from SunPower, SunPower said. It said an analysis established that all five defendants used personal storage devices to take SunPower computer files shortly before leaving the company.

SolarCity was founded in 2006 by brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive, the first cousins of Tesla Motors Inc CEO and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, who is SolarCity's chairman.

(Reporting by Braden Reddall in San Francisco; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

© 2010 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

 

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