Apple poaching suit potentially tied to A123's high-performance electric vehicle batteries

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited February 2015
A123 Systems, which filed a lawsuit this month accusing Apple of unfairly poaching its engineers, is best known for creating large lithium-ion batteries used in futuristic high-performance electric automobiles, a specialty that may have played a key role in Apple's interest in its employees.


The Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 land speed racing vehicle uses A123 battery technology.


The lawsuit from A123 comes as a flurry of rumors have claimed Apple has begun work on a top-secret electric car project codenamed "Titan."

While A123's complaint does not say exactly what its supposedly-poached engineers were working on, the lawsuit accuses Apple of hiring high-level employees "under suspicious circumstances." And A123 has an established track record of building batteries for a variety of vehicle types, ranging from passenger cars to commercial trucks.

In one particularly impressive example, A123's prismatic batteries power the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3, an electric land speed racing vehicle. As noted by MacPlus, the Venturi team hopes to make the VBB-3 reach a record shattering ground speed of 700 kilometers per hour, or 435 miles per hour.


An inside look at the VBB-3's batteries.


A123's batteries were already used in part of the 2010 land speed challenge in the VBB-2.5 model, replacing the fuel cells of Venturi's previous model. That posted a then-record speed of 307.58 miles per hour.

For more traditional consumer-focused vehicle uses, A123's nanophosphate lithium-ion batteries are also found in the Chevrolet Spark EV, which was released in select markets in the U.S. in June 2013. The plug-in hybrid Fisker Karma also utilizes A123 technology, among other vehicles.

Batteries, of course, are a core part of almost all of Apple's products, including the iPhone, iPad, and its MacBook lineup. So it would come as no surprise that Apple is interested in hiring engineers experienced in advanced battery technology.


A123 technology also powers the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid.


But A123 and its engineers have historically specialized in bigger batteries -- the type that are well-suited for electric and hybrid cars.

And Apple is now heavily rumored to be experimenting with an electric, self-driving car featuring "several hundred" workers, some of which were formerly employees of Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla.

Filed earlier this month, the lawsuit from A123 Systems accuses Apple of poaching workers with proprietary information vital to its operations. Specifically, key members from A123's advanced System Venture Technologies Division were said to have been hired by Apple, and their loss was so devastating that the company shut down individual projects assigned to each worker.


A123 tech is found in the Chevrolet Spark EV, which is available in limited markets.


A123 Systems went public in 2009, but by October of 2012 it filed for bankruptcy. Since then, it has been gradually selling off its assets, including the automotive division, which was purchased by Johnson Controls.

A123's complaint specifically mentions Johnson Controls in the suit, along with LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Toshiba, saying that Apple has targeted employees from those companies who have knowledge of A123's battery technology.

The lawsuit claims that Apple's "aggressive campaign to poach employees" started in June of 2014, well after the bankruptcy filing came. The complaint also accuses former A123 employees of violating non-disclosure, non-competition, and non-solicitation agreements.

For now, the market leader in electric vehicle battery technology is Panasonic, which has helped create much of Tesla's technology through a joint venture. Panasonic is also a partner, set to invest hundreds of millions of dollars, into Tesla's so-called "gigafactory" in Nevada.

If Apple does plan to release an electric car at some point in the future, Panasonic's close partnerships with Tesla, which see it supply 100 percent of the automaker's lithium-ion cells, could prove to be a roadblock. That's yet another potential reason for the company to recruit engineers and develop its own proprietary battery technology in-house.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 48
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,422member

    So Apple (and other companies) get sued for allegedly agreeing to not poach employees from each other and now Apple gets sued for allegedly poaching employees?   And they only poached the employees after the company was in bankruptcy.   Of course the employees wanted to leave.    

     

    What's wrong with this picture?

     

    In spite of ever-increasing evidence, I still find it really hard to believe that Apple wants to produce and sell a car.    

  • Reply 2 of 48
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member

    You hear people saying that "green" electric cars are better for the environment. They may reduce the overall air pollution in the cities, however the production of Lithium is far from environmentally friendly. It is fairly rare and never found in pure form. There is a lot of electric energy required to extract the usable product required for batteries. Also there is a lot of water required to process Lithium. As electric vehicles increase, the supply of Lithium will probably not be sustainable without considerable damage to the environment.

  • Reply 3 of 48
    nofeernofeer Posts: 2,422member
    Very interesting bankruptcy??
    Wow as an employee of a company in bankruptcy Id like the idea of
    FINDING ANOTHER JOB
    It's not viable
    As a company then move on
    I said in a related post maybe apple tried to buy them but leadership
    Didn't get a chance to screw over apple or their Employees like GT did
    Sooooo apple went around them
  • Reply 4 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by sog35 View Post

     

     

    brought to you by Exxon Corporation


     

     

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mstone View Post

     

    You hear people saying that "green" electric cars are better for the environment. They may reduce the overall air pollution in the cities, however the production of Lithium is far from environmentally friendly. It is fairly rare and never found in pure form. There is a lot of electric energy required to extract the usable product required for batteries. Also there is a lot of water required to process Lithium. As electric vehicles increase, the supply of Lithium will probably not be sustainable without considerable damage to the environment.


    No, brought to you by reality.    

  • Reply 5 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by sog35 View Post

     

     

    No.  Fossil Fuels are much more hazardous to the environment than electric cars.

     

    Do some research before you make yourself look foolish


    Same could be said of yourself.  You haven't presented any research of your own. Poking fun at others is nothing but a cop out.

  • Reply 6 of 48
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by sog35 View Post

     

    No.  Fossil Fuels are much more hazardous to the environment than electric cars.

     


    Right now, because there are so few electric cars, however once the production of Lithium needs to scale up to meet ever increasing demand, that is when undesirable side effects will impact the environment. The electricity required to extract the Lithium will come almost entirely from fuel fired generators so the environmental damage is even doubled, plus the contamination of water makes it worse.

     

    But who cares since all of the Lithium production occurs in China and South America? /s

     

    Western consumers are blissfully unaware of what actually goes into their gadgets.

  • Reply 7 of 48

    Check out a company called Simbol Materials. They are extracting lithium from hydrothermal wells where they are otherwise an environmental contaminant. They're based in Pleasanton, CA but they have a pilot plant near the Salton Sea in inland Southern California.

  • Reply 8 of 48
    If A123 is in bankruptcy, they don't stand a chance. The employees obviously are not stupid. Work for Apple, or work for a bankrupt company?
  • Reply 9 of 48
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by sog35 View Post

     
    seriously.  Is Exxon paying you are something?  


    I am an advocate of electric powered mass transit systems and public transportation.

     

    If we derived our electricity from solar that would be ideal. I like Tallest's idea of an inductive power source below the roadway. It would work similar to how the electric light rail in Portland, Seattle, SF and LA works except underground instead of above.

     

    Quote:


    Show me some proof since you are the one who made the accusation first. 


    There is this website called Wikipedia. You may have heard of it.

  • Reply 10 of 48
    mstone wrote: »
    I am an advocate of electric powered mass transit systems and public transportation.

    If we derived our electricity from solar that would be ideal. I like Tallest's idea of an inductive power source below the roadway. It would work similar to how the electric light rail in Portland, Seattle, SF and LA works except underground instead of above.


    Solar would be fine until the night time. Or when it's cloudy. What happens then? Everyone has to walk? Inductive is a good idea, but the pickup coil would need to be essentially rubbing along the ground, and anything electrical near the road would be fried in an instant. It would essentially be a country-wide radio transmitter, so say goodbye to radio transmissions too. Even watches could pick up current from the induction and burn into your wrist. Sounds fun.

    sog35 wrote: »
    I agree.  And making viable EV cars is the first step to that.

    That will NEVER happen if we keep relying on fossil fuels.

    So yes I support EV research and production because even though its far from perfect (may need to rely on coal burning eletrical plants) its the first step to much cleaner energy.

    But where does the power for the electric vehicles come from? Oh yes that's right the wall, so it's clean! ...wait, no, it comes from coal fired power stations. If every power station was nuclear, then yes, it'd be a good idea since that has pretty much zero CO2 emissions, but right now, it's not efficient or eco-friendly in the slightest.

    What about the fact you need to buy a new battery bank every 3-5 years too, and dispose of the highly hazardous old one?
  • Reply 11 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mstone View Post

     

    Right now, because there are so few electric cars, however once the production of Lithium needs to scale up to meet ever increasing demand, that is when undesirable side effects will impact the environment. The electricity required to extract the Lithium will come almost entirely from fuel fired generators so the environmental damage is even doubled, plus the contamination of water makes it worse.

     

    But who cares since all of the Lithium production occurs in China and South America? /s

     

    Western consumers are blissfully unaware of what actually goes into their gadgets.


     

    This could be true, UNLESS, someone creates a Lithium recycling program.  After all, these batteries don't last for ever.

     

    As well, this only holds true if we keep using Lithium batteries.  There could be other battery types being researched, and Lithium could be replaced.

     

    But yes, "greenies", sometimes ignore hazardous materials in "green" products.  Just look at the use of mercury in fluorescent lighting, which is seen as "green".

  • Reply 12 of 48
    haggarhaggar Posts: 1,568member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by zoetmb View Post

     

    So Apple (and other companies) get sued for allegedly agreeing to not poach employees from each other and now Apple gets sued for allegedly poaching employees?


     

    Yes, I am surprised the article didn't mention these previous non-poaching deals.

  • Reply 13 of 48
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Re-reading that Jony Ive interview makes me wonder if Tim Cook needs to be worried about burn-out issues amongst the execs. Between the ?Watch launch and December Ive said he contracted pneumonia and said he "burnt himself into not being well". If you look at Ive's plate right now he's got all hardware and software UI design (including the rumored iPad Pro and 12" MBA), he's obviously heavily involved in ?Watch and apparently is working with Angela Ahrendts on a store redesign to accommodate the watch (and there are rumors Apple might launch watch only stores in the future). He and his design team also appear to be heavily involved in the new Campus. And then throw on an automotive project? Maybe that's why Marc Ndwson was hired but he's only part time. And then look at someone like Eddy Cue who has iCloud, iTunes, iBooks, App Store, Beats Music, ?TV and ?Pay. It seems to me that's stretching executives way too thin and when you're stretched that thin how can you produce your best work?
  • Reply 14 of 48
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Elijahg View Post



    Solar would be fine until the night time. Or when it's cloudy. What happens then? Everyone has to walk? Inductive is a good idea, but the pickup coil would need to be essentially rubbing along the ground, and anything electrical near the road would be fried in an instant. It would essentially be a country-wide radio transmitter, so say goodbye to radio transmissions too. Even watches could pick up current from the induction and burn into your wrist. Sounds fun.

     

    Ok so maybe not such a good idea. I'm not against electric cars with Lithium batteries. I'm just against single occupant cars when public transportation, bike, walking, ride share vans, etc. would be preferable in my opinion. I like my BMW just fine, but I use it almost exclusively as a driving enthusiast pastime, only about 2,500 miles per year, not to commute to the office.

  • Reply 15 of 48
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post



    Re-reading that Jony Ive interview makes me wonder if Tim Cook needs to be worried about burn-out issues amongst the execs. Between the ?Watch launch and December Ive said he contracted pneumonia and said he "burnt himself into not being well". If you look at Ive's plate right now he's got all hardware and software UI design (including the rumored iPad Pro and 12" MBA), he's obviously heavily involved in ?Watch and apparently is working with Angela Ahrendts on a store redesign to accommodate the watch (and there are rumors Apple might launch watch only stores in the future). He and his design team also appear to be heavily involved in the new Campus. And then throw on an automotive project? Maybe that's why Marc Ndwson was hired but he's only part time. And then look at someone like Eddy Cue who has iCloud, iTunes, iBooks, App Store, Beats Music, ?TV and ?Pay. It seems to me that's stretching executives way too thin and when you're stretched that thin how can you produce your best work?

    Good points. I wonder how he does it. Seems impossible. Even if you delegate most of your work, keeping an eye on it all seems impossible.

  • Reply 16 of 48
    hodarhodar Posts: 261member
    We need energy, but the fact is we are scared.

    Back in the 70's a super scary movie came out called "The China Syndrome" - boy, it was so scary that it shut down most of our nuclear programs. And it kept most of them shut down for 30 years. And the not-so scary Godzilla movies must have kept Nuclear reactors shut down here for another 10 years; despite the fact that we have nuclear reactors on our aircraft carriers, submarines and most of our naval warships for the past 50 years, without incident. Then we have the fact that countries like France get about 80% of their energy from nuclear reactors - but, that's just too scary for us Americans.

    We can't do coal, because we are scared of fossil fuels, despite our advanced scrubbers - they aren't the dirty plants they were 50 years ago.
    We can't do damns, because we might hurt some fish. Mustn't disturb the fishes.
    We can't do wind, because they kill some birds.

    And we can't seriously consider Thorium reactors, well ... because they are too close to nuclear ... and nuclear is scary ... Gozilla ...and stuff.

    So, let's sit back and decline as a culture. That will show them.
  • Reply 17 of 48
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mstone View Post

     

    You hear people saying that "green" electric cars are better for the environment. They may reduce the overall air pollution in the cities, however the production of Lithium is far from environmentally friendly. It is fairly rare and never found in pure form. There is a lot of electric energy required to extract the usable product required for batteries. Also there is a lot of water required to process Lithium. As electric vehicles increase, the supply of Lithium will probably not be sustainable without considerable damage to the environment.


     

    You're making a common mistake. Yes, the production of some of this green technology is itself damaging to the environment. The difference is that it is an "up front" cost, which happens at one point in time as the device is manufactured. By contrast, the burning of fossil fuels is an "ongoing" cost, which just continues damaging the environment continuously over time. For sure, it will be great once they develop even better green technologies with less impact, but make no mistake, the ones we have are still a better option overall than the old way.

     

    A similar principle also covers fossil fuel powered energy plants. Sure, we eventually want to move away from that. But at least when you concentrate all the fuel burning in one place, you have a lot more power to scrub the exhaust and implement other environmental controls on that one spot to minimize impact, as opposed to when everything everywhere is burning it.

  • Reply 18 of 48
    sog35 wrote: »
    I'm talking about solar panels powering a power plant.  Then you plug in your car to an outlet powered by that power plant.

    Wait what? Solar panels powering a power plant? The panels ARE the power plant, and when it goes dark, they don't produce any power. So you mean you could only charge your car during sunny days?

    fuzzypaws wrote: »
    You're making a common mistake. Yes, the production of some of this green technology is itself damaging to the environment. The difference is that it is an "up front" cost, which happens at one point in time as the device is manufactured. By contrast, the burning of fossil fuels is an "ongoing" cost, which just continues damaging the environment continuously over time. For sure, it will be great once they develop even better green technologies with less impact, but make no mistake, the ones we have are still a better option overall than the old way.

    A similar principle also covers fossil fuel powered energy plants. Sure, we eventually want to move away from that. But at least when you concentrate all the fuel burning in one place, you have a lot more power to scrub the exhaust and implement other environmental controls on that one spot to minimize impact, as opposed to when everything everywhere is burning it.

    It's true that it's easier to scrub the exhaust gasses in one place, but the transmission and storage of the energy and ultimate conversion back to kinetic loses a significant proportion of the energy generated at the plant. The power line heating losses, motor losses, generator losses, transmission and control electronics losses, battery chemical energy losses etc.
  • Reply 19 of 48
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Fuzzypaws View Post

     
     

    You're making a common mistake. 


    I don't believe I have made any mistake. I wrote nothing in that context about recommending fossil fuel. Just a comment that Lithium production will have a significant impact on the environment once it reaches full scale implementation say 300K+ tons annually. Not a single comparison to fossil fuel was stated or implied.

     

    It is also not a one time up front cost, as electric vehicles usually require replacement batteries every 3-5 years. Plus the old batteries need to be disposed of. Currently there is no process to recycle Lithium from batteries because it is not economically viable.

  • Reply 20 of 48
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,799member

    I’m sorry but I have no clue how this lawsuit has any merit at all. So Apple started to hire away employees of a bankrupt company and that company sues. Can someone with knowledge of the law please comment on what laws Apple may have broken doing this? Non-compete clauses I understand but that would be between the employee and the company they signed the contract with. Furthermore what does it say about the competency of the engineers being hired away if they couldn’t produce the results needed to keep this A123 outfit afloat?  

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