The Lawsuit Against Apple for Poaching
Why would Apple need car battery engineers? Well, it seems that the iconic computer company has plans to branch out into other markets. At least that is what Apple’s bold move to hire numerous high-profile auto engineers from A123, a prominent large-scale battery manufacturer, suggests. Beginning in June 2014, Apple began luring some of A123’s best and brightest to work in its own secret division, ostensibly a team of pros designing a new type of electric car to usher in the dawn of a new era for Apple. While it is all well and good to expand horizons, in this case, it is also illegal.
The complaint names five of its former employees – Don Dafoe, Michael Erickson, Indrajeet Thorat, Mujeeb Ijaz, and Depeng Wang – as having left A123 before their contractual obligations had been met. Three of these employees served as PhD project heads researching new electric car technology. Another of the employees, Mujeeb Ijaz, oversaw not only the other named individuals in the lawsuit but the research division as a whole. After these five employees departed A123, email correspondence between them and Apple’s talent acquisition staff set off red flags that the computer company known for computer and cell phone technology had its eye set on something entirely new that translates to “unfair competition,” according to A123. There is an in-depth article about employee contractual obligations and what can be enforced found on this blog.
According to A123, the employees that moved to Apple did so in grave violation of their legal agreements with their original employer. A123, which has U.S. government contracts of its own to fulfill, isn’t just upset with the early and unexpected departure of its engineers. Apparently, these engineers were so vital to A123’s operations that the entire future of its own projects are in peril. The former employee who is at the center of the lawsuit is Mujeeb Ijaz, who has been accused of not only jumping ship but actively recruiting other bright minds from within A123 to Apple’s own battery-making efforts.
“It appears that Apple, with the assistance of defendant Ijaz, is systematically hiring away A123’s high-tech PhD and engineering employees, thereby effectively shutting down various projects/programs at A123,” a portion of the lawsuit reads. “They are doing so in an effort to support Apple’s apparent plans to establish a battery division that is similar if not identical to A123’s, in competition with A123.” The fact that Ijaz has also been contacting some of A123’s partners on behalf of Apple only seems to confirm the battery manufacturer’s fears.
The complaint also notes how Apple’s recruiting efforts have not been limited to taking at least 11 of A123’s former engineers (although only five of those are named as defendants in the lawsuit). There is evidence that Apple has reached out to other well-known battery engineers from Samsung, Panasonic, Toshiba, and more. At this time, none of those companies have made an official comment or have begun lawsuits of their own against the iPad and iPhone producer. That does not, however, mean that additional complaints will be filed in the near future.
Although Apple has a history of beginning and later abandoning projects the company deems as not worth the hassle after a bit of research, it seems that whatever secret division (that is ostensibly designing a new electric car) requires these automotive battery engineers is here to stay. John Crawford’s theory suggest that with over 60 former employees of A123’s rival Tesla now at Apple’s new division’s helm in addition to the allegedly poached A123 engineers, there is a huge investment in highly skilled manpower. For now, the purpose of collecting so many car battery engineers remains a mystery because Apple continues to decline comment for the time being.