a lawsuit to watch

Apple sued for poaching car battery experts

When you’re the world’s most valuable company, you can expect a few lawsuits to come your way. For Apple, the latest legal trouble comes via battery maker A123, which alleges that Apple “systematically” poached many of the Waltham, Massachusetts company’s most valuable researchers.

A123’s suit claims that “Apple is currently developing a large scale battery division to compete in the very same field as A123.”

Most of A123’s claims aren’t against Apple, but against five former high-level employees who now work at Apple, accusing them of breaking their non-compete agreements and non-disclosure agreements. Most of the accusations center around A123 venture unit’s former CTO, Mujeeb Ijaz, who supposedly pitched some of his direct reports on working for Apple.

A legal note filed by A123 says that ultimately, after Mujeeb Ijaz left A123 to work for Apple last June, he was able to convince four of his subordinates to leave A123 as well — three of whom have PhDs. His Linkedin Profile says he still works for A123. One of the employees he reportedly poached, Don Dafoe, has a LinkedIn profile that says he works for a “Bay Area start up.

Apple’s pitch to the A123 researchers probably included substantial compensation as well as the opportunity to work for one of the world’s technology leaders. Tesla CEO Elon Musk told Bloomberg that Apple had been offering $250,000 signing bonuses and 60 percent salary increases to Tesla employees. But A123’s new ownership situation probably contributed to the talent exodus as well. In 2012, the company filed for bankruptcy, and was soon purchased by Chinese automotive giant Wanxiang. A123 specializes in lithium ion battery technology, and provided the batteries for the Fisker Karma electric car. Fisker was later purchased by Wanxiang as well.

Apple sensor-equipped Minivan spotted by Claycord
Apple sensor-equipped Minivan spotted by Claycord

The kind of engineers that helped develop the Fisker lithium-ion batteries would be a huge help if [company]Apple[/company] is in fact developing an electric car, as the Wall Street Journal reported last week. The company is hiring the right people, including the former head of Mercedes-Benz R&D, Johann Jungwirth.

On the other hand, Apple uses lithium-ion batteries in its current products. Since car battery expertise is similar to gadget battery expertise, the former A123 engineers could be also working on better iPhone batteries, for instance. Last year, the New York Times reported that Apple had hired engineers from A123 but did not mention a car.

A123 wants monetary damages, it wants to prohibit Apple from using its intellectual property, and it wants Apple to stop hiring more of its employees. Its lawyers are seeking access to Apple documents including its business plan for its battery technology, as well as what its former employees are working on. You can expect Apple to rebuff A123’s claims and try to keep its trade secrets under wraps. This suit could be one to watch for clues as to what exactly Apple is cooking up on four wheels.

A123 complaint

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