US startup Smartcar accuses Israeli rival Otonomo of plagiarism
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US startup Smartcar accuses Israeli rival Otonomo of plagiarism

California-based firm says Herzliya startup is ‘illegally cloning’ its API documentation; Otonomo insists its intellectual property is its own but will look into matter

An illustrative image of smartcars on the road (LV4260; iStock by Getty Images)
An illustrative image of smartcars on the road (LV4260; iStock by Getty Images)

US startup Smartcar has taken legal action against Israeli competitor Otonomo, claiming that the Herzliya-based startup has plagiarized its application programming interface to the point of including typos and random strings of code. An API is a set of definitions, communication protocols and tools for building software.

The US firm has published a blog post showing side-by-side screenshots detailing the alleged copying of its intellectual property.

“We started Smartcar a few years ago with a powerful mission: making it possible for developers to easily build apps for cars,” wrote Smartcar CEO and co-founder Sahas Katta in a blog post Monday titled “How Otonomo with nearly $55 million in funding is illegally cloning our product.”

“A few days ago, we came across Otonomo’s publicly available API documentation,” Katta wrote. “As we read through it, we quickly realized that something was off. It looked familiar. Oddly familiar. That’s because we wrote it.”

“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,” he wrote. He provided screenshots that backed up his allegations.

Smartcar, a Mountain View, California-based startup founded by Katta and Sanketh Katta, has developed a connected car platform to make it easier for developers to build web and mobile apps that communicate with vehicles, according to Crunchbase.

Israel’s Otonomo has developed a cloud-based platform that allows the makers of cars, mobility service providers and the developers of apps to share and integrate data generated by cars, according to the database of Start-Up Nation Central, an NGO that tracks the tech industry in Israel. Investors include auto industry giant Delphi Automotive Plc, renamed as Aptiv Plc, and Japan’s NTT Docomo Ventures, according to the database.

Otonomo is not “some rogue company,” Katta wrote in the blogpost, noting the “approximately $55 million in disclosed venture capital funding from well-regarded VCs” it has raised.

“I’m baffled,” Katta said, adding that Smartcar has taken legal action, sending Otonomo a cease and desist order “demanding that they immediately stop ripping off our hard work. Stay tuned.”

In a text message to The Times of Israel, Otonomo’s chief marketing officer Lisa Joy Rosner said: “Otonomo prides itself on providing a completely unique offering backed by our own intellectual property and patents. We take Smartcar’s questions seriously and are conducting an investigation, but we remain confident that our rigorous standards of integrity remain uncompromised. If our investigation reveals any issues, we will immediately take the necessary steps to address them.”

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