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An image included in Wisk's court filing compares a Wisk prototype, left, to one later produced by Archer. Image: Wisk

Archer Aviation, an air taxi startup planning to go public soon through a SPAC merger, is now facing a federal investigation and accusations that the company stole trade secrets from a key rival.

Why it matters: The dispute between Archer and Wisk Aero, a joint venture of Boeing and Google co-founder Larry Page's Kitty Hawk, underscores the intense competition to dominate the still-unproven market for flying cars.

  • It also has the potential to impact Archer's planned merger with blank check-company Atlas Crest Investment Corp.

Driving the news: Shortly after Wisk filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday accusing Archer of poaching employees who had stolen trade secrets, Archer disclosed that it is cooperating with a government investigation into the matter.

  • “Archer has placed an employee on paid administrative leave in connection with a government investigation and a search warrant issued to the employee, which we believe are focused on conduct prior to the employee joining the company," Archer said in a statement.
  • "Archer and three other Archer employees with whom the individual worked also have received subpoenas relating to this investigation, and all are fully cooperating with the authorities.”

Between the lines: Wisk outlined its allegations in a blog post Tuesday, describing what it calls "significant and troubling evidence indicating that Archer has been using Wisk’s proprietary intellectual property without our permission."

  • The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, contends that two engineers stole files before departing Wisk and joining Archer.
  • A third engineer allegedly wiped the history of his activities from his computer before leaving for Archer, the suit contends.
  • Wisk, which has been working on electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOLs) for 10 years, said Archer, a recent newcomer backed by Stellantis and United Airlines, is "seeking to gain a foothold in this industry without respecting the rules of fair competition."

The other side: “It’s regrettable that Wisk would engage in litigation in an attempt to deflect from the business issues that have caused several of its employees to depart," Archer said in a statement.

  • "The plaintiff raised these matters over a year ago, and after looking into them thoroughly, we have no reason to believe any proprietary Wisk technology ever made its way to Archer.  We intend to defend ourselves vigorously.” 

Go deeper

Biden to stress U.S. does not seek new Cold War in UN speech

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden will use his first address before the UN General Assembly to lay out his vision for an era of "intensive diplomacy" with allies and "vigorous competition" with great powers — without a Cold War with China.

Why it matters: Biden will take the podium in New York on Tuesday with his own international credibility in question after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. His administration also is struggling to build international momentum to fight climate change, the pandemic and rising authoritarianism.

4 hours ago - Health

Biden administration to lift travel ban for fully vaccinated international travelers

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients announced on Monday that the Biden administration will allow fully vaccinated travelers from around the world to enter the U.S. beginning in November.

Why it matters: The announcement comes as President Biden seeks commitments from countries to donate vaccines to the global COVAX initiative. He is expected to host a COVID summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week, and many of the countries attending have expressed frustration with the travel ban.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Gen Z breaks into VC

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

When Meagan Loyst joined VC firm Lerer Hippeau, less than two years out of Boston College, she was still living with her parents. She had virtually no online brand presence, and the pandemic made it impossible to build a professional network via in-person meetings.

Why it matters: Loyst wasn't alone. Venture firms have accelerated hiring in line with record deal activity, often seeking younger investors who can spot trends that fly below the radar (or intrinsic understanding) of older partners.