Is an iCar on the Horizon? Apple Facing Suit for Poaching Engineers from Car Battery Manufacturer.

February 21, 2015

Much to the excitement of the technology aficionados who impatiently await each new version of the iPhone and iPad, there is some indication that Apple may be in the process of designing a much bigger product. In recent weeks, rumors have been circulating that Apple may be developing an electric car. While Apple has previously been involved in automotive-related projects like CarPlay, which integrates iPhone functions in built-in car displays, developing a car would be a major change in direction for the computer manufacture that has mainly focused its business on mobile and electronic devices. The New York Times reports that over the past few years Apple has been assembling a team of over 200 people to work on an electric automotive prototype. The team reportedly working on the project includes former employees from potential competitors like Tesla.
Not all of the companies losing workers and scientist to Apple’s new project are happy with their former-employees’ new vocations.

One of the companies with former employees now working for Apple, A123 Systems, has filed suit against Apple for poaching five of the company’s employees.

A123, a developer and manufacturer of high-power lithium iron phosphate batteries, filed a complaint on February 6 in Massachusetts Superior Court . According to Law 360, the lawsuit—which Apple has removed to Massachusetts Federal Court—claims that Apple “hired away five employees who developed new battery technology and products and tested existing products, despite the fact that the employees were under contracts with noncompete, nonsolicit, and nondisclosure obligations.”
The complaint states that Apple has used “an aggressive campaign to poach employees of A123 and to otherwise raid A123’s business” since June of 2015. The company also filed suit against the five employees that all previously worked in A123’s System Venture Technologies Division. According to Law 360, the complaint includes claims of “breach of contract against the employees, tortious interference against [one of the employees] and Apple, raiding against Apple, and unfair competition, misappropriation of trade secrets against all defendants.”
A123 claims that not only are the employees in violation of the restrictive covenants in their contracts, but that the battery maker warned Apple about those contracts and eventually stopped receiving responses from Apple when A123 sought assurance that Apple would not compete with the company’s interests. Moreover, A123 asserts that the employees left under suspicious circumstances, and that one, in particular, tried to solicit a company that was collaborating with A123 on Apple’s behalf.
Apple has not commented on either the lawsuit or the rumored Automotive Team, so technology enthusiasts and technology lawyers alike will have to wait to see what come out of the work being done at what the Financial Times reports is a “top-secret lab” located in “a confidential Silicon Valley location.”