Battery maker A123 Systems sues Apple for poaching staff

19 Feb 2015


Electric-car battery maker A123 Systems has sued Apple Inc for poaching top engineers to build a large-scale battery division, according to a court filing that offered further evidence that the iPhone maker may be developing a car.

Around June 2014, Apple began aggressively poaching A123 engineers tasked with leading some of the company's most critical projects, the lawsuit said.

The engineers jumped ship to pursue similar programmes at Apple, in violation of their employment agreements, A123 said in a filing earlier this month in Massachusetts federal court. "Apple is currently developing a large-scale battery division to compete in the very same field as A123," the lawsuit read. The suit was reported earlier by legal website

A123 Systems is a pioneering industrial lithium-ion battery maker, which was backed by a $249 million US government grant. It filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and has been selling off assets.

Lithium-ion is a battery technology that can be used in applications from computers to airplanes, but A123 specialises in big batteries that can be used in big machines, including cars. A123 did not say what the engineers specifically worked on.

It said in its lawsuit that the engineers who left were of such calibre that the projects they had been working on had to be abandoned after their departures. It also accused one of the five defendants, Mujeeb Ijaz, of helping Apple recruit from among its ranks.

As noted in the filing, Apple has been conducting "an aggressive campaign to poach employees of A123 and to otherwise raid A123's business" since June of 2014. At particular issue are non-disclosure, non-competition and non-solicitation agreements, which Ijaz supposedly breached by recruiting one or more of his former colleagues after joining Apple.

 With the staff departures, A123 says it has had to shut down individual projects assigned to each worker for lack of suitable replacements.

 In addition to the five A123 workers, the suit alleges Apple has targeted employees from other companies who have knowledge of the firm's battery technology, including staff from LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Toshiba and Johnson Controls.

Ijaz in particular allegedly reached out to employees at A123 collaborator SiNode Systems, a research and development firm focusing on lithium ion battery technology.

Aside from the usual monetary damages and legal fees, A123 is requesting the court enjoin Ijaz and the four other former employees from working at Apple or any other competing company for one year and bar Apple from hiring other employees from A123's Venture Technologies division.

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