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Tesla feud discharged

September 21, 2009 |  1:28 pm

Good news, EV fans: the Hatfields and McCoys of the electric propulsion world are friends again.

A defamation lawsuit against Tesla Motors Chief Executive Elon Musk, filed by ex-Chief Executive Martin Eberhard, has been settled out of court.

Elon MuskMusk, who made hundreds of millions of dollars as the largest shareholder in PayPal when it was bought by eBay, took the reins at Tesla in October. Eberhard left the company late in 2007.

News that the lawsuit was resolved, broken by the LegalPad blog on Friday and confirmed by Tesla spokeswoman Rachel Konrad today, puts to bed a contentious issue: Who founded Tesla?

The suit, filed in May by Eberhard, largely revolved around the right of Musk to call himself the founder of the San Carlos, Calif., automaker. Over Eberhard's protestations to the contrary, it was a distinction that Musk availed himself of frequently.

Martin Eberhard

But now, thanks to terms that are "confidential," Eberhard and Musk are equals. Konrad, in a statement, called the them "two of the co-founders of Tesla."

(The others, according to reports, are Chief Technology Officer J.B.  Straubel, as well as departed execs Marc Tarpenning and Ian Wright.)

Eberhard, who has bashed Musk on his (now restricted access) blog, and accused him of sundry errors in leadership at Tesla in the lawsuit, is suddenly singing a different tune. "Elon's contributions to Tesla have been extraordinary," he said in a statement.

Electric cars are proving to be an awfully litigious technology, with Tesla leading the way. Last year, Tesla sued Henrik Fisker, head of rival Fisker Automotive, for stealing trade secrets. That suit was ultimately thrown out.

The resolution of this latest dispute will doubtless be mourned on the Silicon Valley gossip circuit. The suit, among other things, alleged that Musk had falsified information about his education, to which the South African exec responded with a detailed riposte on his blog.

--Ken Bensinger

Photos: Elon Musk (top right). Credit: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times. Martin Eberhard (bottom left). Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press.