Apple poached battery manufacturer employees for own project, lawsuit alleges

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 2015
A new lawsuit filed in early February claims Apple poached workers with proprietary information vital to battery manufacturer A123 Systems' operations in an attempt to build out its own competing battery division in California.

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According to a complaint removed to a Massachusetts district court, spotted by Law360, Apple poached five employees from battery maker A123, specifically key members of the company's advanced System Venture Technologies Division.

Described by A123 as a technology incubator tasked with accelerating "game changing technologies," Venture Technologies was headed up by CTO Mujeeb Ijaz, who reportedly left the company for Apple "under suspicious circumstances" last June. Four former staff members, Don Dafoe, Michael Erickson, Depeng Wang and Indrajeet Thorat, also worked in the advanced energy storage division and left A123 within the last month.

As noted in the filing, Apple has been conducting "an aggressive campaign to poach employees of A123 and to otherwise raid A123's business" since June of 2014. At particular issue are non-disclosure, non-competition and non-solicitation agreements, which Ijaz supposedly breached by recruiting one or more of his former colleagues after joining Apple.

With the staff departures, A123 alleges it has shut down individual projects assigned to each worker for lack of suitable replacements.

In addition to the five A123 workers, the suit alleges Apple has targeted employees from other companies who have knowledge of the firm's battery technology, including staff from LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Toshiba and Johnson Controls. Ijaz in particular allegedly reached out to employees at A123 collaborator SiNode Systems, a research and development firm focusing on lithium ion battery technology.

Aside from the usual monetary damages and legal fees, A123 is requesting the court enjoin Ijaz and the four other former employees from working at Apple or any other competing company for one year and bar Apple from hiring other employees from A123's Venture Technologies division.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 84
    This tells us nothing necessarily about a car project.

    Pretty much most products that Apple sells require batteries.
  • Reply 2 of 84
    Suing Apple isn't going to put the genie back in its bottle. Perhaps A123 should revise their HR policies to make their employment offer more attractive.
  • Reply 3 of 84
    I can see that stealing IP is bad, but wasn't there just a big lawsuit against anti-poaching agreements between tech giants preventing people's employment at competitors? If someone wants to up and leave to get a different job elsewhere, unless contracted otherwise, they're free to do just that.
  • Reply 4 of 84
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,835member
    Poaching is legal surely? Isn't that why the anti-poaching lawsuit won?
  • Reply 5 of 84
    irelandireland Posts: 17,491member

    Apple's not making a music player.

    Apple's not making a phone.

    Apple's not making a tablet.

    Apple's not making a car.

  • Reply 6 of 84
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post



    This tells us nothing necessarily about a car project.



    Pretty much most products that Apple sells require batteries.

    Exactly, and many of them would benefit from extended battery life. Especially a little one that's wrist-worn.

     

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

     

    Apple's not making a music player.

    Apple's not making a phone.

    Apple's not making a tablet.

    Apple's not making a car.




    A car is a significant leap from Apple's normal stomping grounds. All the prior devices do at least have something to do with computing.

  • Reply 7 of 84
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member

    We get head hunters calling all the time. They just dial consecutive phone numbers within our building using the same deceptive line, that they must have misdialed and were trying to reach the <insert department name> trying to reach what's his name. My secretary answers 4 lines and after about three calls I overheard her say "What is wrong with you are you blonde?" 

  • Reply 8 of 84
    ireland wrote: »
    Apple's not making a music player.
    Apple's not making a phone.
    Apple's not making a tablet.
    Apple's not making a car.

    Apple is making the first three: the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, so you're wrong to assert that it doesn't.

    It no doubt makes thousands of things we don't see. One of those might be a car, so you may be wrong there, too.

    Energy management is the big stumbling block for everything, though, so whoever finds the key will win the golden ticket. Maybe we never will. Never say never, though.
  • Reply 9 of 84
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mstone View Post

     

    My secretary answers 4 lines and after about three calls I overheard her say "What is wrong with you are you blonde?" 


    I hope you gave her a raise. <img class=" src="http://forums-files.appleinsider.com/images/smilies//lol.gif" />

  • Reply 10 of 84
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post

     

    Exactly, and many of them would benefit from extended battery life. Especially a little one that's wrist-worn.

     



    A car is a significant leap from Apple's normal stomping grounds. All the prior devices do at least have something to do with computing.


    "All the prior devices do at least have something to do with computing."

     

    So modern day vehicles.

  • Reply 11 of 84
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by CanukStorm View Post

     

    "All the prior devices do at least have something to do with computing."

     

    So modern day vehicles.




    I can't type up a novel on a car infotainment system. Nor can I code a program, or work on a spreadsheet, or edit video.

  • Reply 12 of 84
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post



    Poaching is legal surely? Isn't that why the anti-poaching lawsuit won?



    Yes it's legal, but when you entice multiple employees from the same company who all are working on one thing, and that being what the company is best known for, it might become rather hard to argue that you weren't in fact trying to acquire that particular companies IP via those individuals.  If you weren't after their IP, you could have gotten your chemists, metalurgists or whatever from numerous companies.  Getting them all from the one specific source implies there is something unique and specific about the source that is of interest.

  • Reply 13 of 84
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    This tells us nothing necessarily about a car project.

    Pretty much most products that Apple sells require batteries.

    Their website seems to refer mostly to vehicoes and electric grids.

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    Of course that doesn't mean Apple couldn't use their expertise in other areas but the timing is curious considering they were hired within the last year or so which is also when Tim Cook allegedly approved this car project inside Apple.
  • Reply 14 of 84
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 1,792member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

     



    Yes it's legal, but when you entice multiple employees from the same company who all are working on one thing, and that being what the company is best known for, it might become rather hard to argue that you weren't in fact trying to acquire that particular companies IP via those individuals.  If you weren't after their IP, you could have gotten your chemists, metalurgists or whatever from numerous companies.  Getting them all from the one specific source implies there is something unique and specific about the source that is of interest.


     

    Anti-poaching agreements are legal between companies that have teams working together. This is a way to ensure each doesn't lose their "talent" to the other should the arrangement not work out. I can only guess that at one time Apple and this company were working together on something and after that arrangement ended, Apple started plucking specific employees, and broke that agreement.

     

    I do agree, there is something here that Apple seems desperate to have. Wouldn't surprise me if Apple offered to buy the company and they refused to sell. Although it could just be a case of one employee leaving for Apple and others following suit shortly thereafter - and the company feeling slighted and resentful. Although suing Apple is so 2011.

  • Reply 15 of 84

    I can see Apple taking a bigger interest in batteries, since they are at the heart of so many things they do – car or no car.  Besides the obvious candidates, they may also be interested in storing some of that electricity produced by all those solar arrays.  

     

    I swear I read a Liquidmetal patent somewhere, but can't find it now, that one of the applications was for making thinner collector plates in batteries.  My understanding of that tech is that they can't make pieces too large, but big batteries are made from multiple smaller ones anyway.

     

    So how much would it cost Apple just to buy out A123?  

  • Reply 16 of 84
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post

     
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post



    This tells us nothing necessarily about a car project.



    Pretty much most products that Apple sells require batteries.

    Exactly, and many of them would benefit from extended battery life. Especially a little one that's wrist-worn.

     

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Ireland View Post

     

    Apple's not making a music player.

    Apple's not making a phone.

    Apple's not making a tablet.

    Apple's not making a car.




    A car is a significant leap from Apple's normal stomping grounds. All the prior devices do at least have something to do with computing.


    Think man, think! They are all, including the car, portable devices and have computers at their heart. It's a natural fit.  :smokey:

  • Reply 17 of 84
    So Apple can only hire people have no knowledge about what they are doing? Sounds like Walmart to me...
  • Reply 18 of 84
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Carson O'Genic View Post

     

    I can see Apple taking a bigger interest in batteries, since they are at the heart of so many things they do – car or no car.  Besides the obvious candidates, they may also be interested in storing some of that electricity produced by all those solar arrays.  

     

    I swear I read a Liquidmetal patent somewhere, but can't find it now, that one of the applications was for making thinner collector plates in batteries.  My understanding of that tech is that they can't make pieces too large, but big batteries are made from multiple smaller ones anyway.

     

    So how much would it cost Apple just to buy out A123?  




    The time to do that was when they filed for bankruptcy. Now they're just a subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate.

  • Reply 19 of 84



    Ah 

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post

     



    The time to do that was when they filed for bankruptcy. Now they're just a subsidiary of a Chinese conglomerate.




    Ah yes, forgot about that little drama.

  • Reply 20 of 84
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

     

    If you weren't after their IP, you could have gotten your chemists, metalurgists or whatever from numerous companies.  Getting them all from the one specific source implies there is something unique and specific about the source that is of interest.


     

    You have to prove that IP was stolen. Disclosure of trade secrets is hard to prove because you have to actually show it's a trade secret: it has to be not common knowledge, and you have to show that Apple couldn't have figured it out by themselves without the employee. This has in the past been difficult and expensive to show and it's hard if the employee just left. California, in particular, has very strong right-to-work laws.

     

    In most cases that have been successful, they find missing company documents and files with the employee. Then the charge would be possession of stolen property, which is a criminal case first.

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