Apple sued for poaching car battery engineers

The suit adds fuel to rumors Apple is developing an electric vehicle

Apple has been sued by electric car battery maker A123 Systems for poaching five of its employees to help set up a large scale battery division.

Apple "embarked on an aggressive campaign" to poach employees from A123 to set up a battery division in June last year, the company said in a suit filed against Apple.

The lawsuit adds fuel to reports that Apple has been developing an electric car in secret and has several hundred employees working on the project.

The suit names Apple and five engineers A123 says Apple poached from it as defendants. It alleges that Apple also targeted employees with experience in the battery business at LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Panasonic, Toshiba, automotive equipment manufacturer Johnson Controls and silicon-graphene battery specialist SiNode.

A123 was founded in 2001 and develops lithium-ion battery systems for cars, commercial transit buses and other applications.

According to the suit filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts earlier this week, Apple poached one employee, Mujeeb Ijaz, in June 2014. Ijaz was in charge of the A123 Venture Technologies office in Waltham, Massachusetts, a division that conducts research and development related to A123's lithium-ion battery technology business.

The four other employees targeted in the case all reported directly to Ijaz, and started working for Apple in the past couple of months, court filings showed.

According to the suit, Ijaz was the main reason they decided to join Apple. Three of the defendants are scientists that were each in charge of separate projects at A123. Those projects had to be shut down in the wake of their departure for lack of people to replace them.

As a result A123 was forced to "scramble to find replacements at substantial cost," it said, adding that all defendants are now working in a field of battery science that is almost identical to the field they worked in at A123. This is in breach of their contracts which contain an anti-poaching agreement and clauses that prohibit sharing of intellectual property developed at A123, the company said.

By filing the suit, the company wants to prevent its ex-employees sharing sensitive data and technology with Apple and prevent Apple from hiring other A123 employees. It is also looking for an unspecified amount of damages.

A123 also asked the court to enter a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Ijaz and Apple, saying that Apple was fully aware of Ijaz's contractual agreement but nevertheless encouraged him to violate it and solicit A123's workforce.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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