Apple Facing Lawsuit for Poaching Key Battery Engineering Employees From A123 Systems

Amid rumors that Apple is hiring employees for a secret car project, the company is today facing a new lawsuit for poaching employees from battery manufacturing company A123 Systems. While the specific battery expertise of many of the employees is unknown, at least one of the employees had experience with developing battery technology for electric vehicles.

According to a lawsuit shared by Law360 (via 9to5Mac) Apple recently hired five employees from A123 Systems to create a "large scale battery division," violating noncompete agreements that employees signed with the latter company.

a123systems

A123 filed suit Feb. 6 in Massachusetts Superior Court, alleging 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.

Since June, Apple has been mounting "an aggressive campaign to poach employees of A123 and to otherwise raid A123's business," the complaint said.

The employees are said to have left under "suspicious circumstances," and A123 discovered correspondence between its former employees and Apple recruiters on company computers. A123 warned Apple about the noncompete contracts and sought assurance that Apple would not develop a competing business, but Apple reportedly stopped responding to A123's letters.

According to its website, A123 Systems creates "advanced Nanophosphate lithium iron phosphate batteries and energy storage systems," supplied to many vehicle manufacturers. Two of the employees that Apple hired, Dapeng Wang and Indrajeet Thorat, were PhD scientists who manned separate projects at A123, which the company has had to shut down because of difficulty finding replacements.

Wang's LinkedIn profile lists him as a "Development Engineer" at A123 Systems, working on prismatic cell design and tests, among other things. Thorat's LinkedIn profile indicates he held the position of "Battery Research Engineer, Modeling" and A123, where he worked on batteries for hybrid vehicles.

Designed experiments to understand/optimize performance of a cell for Hybrid and Plug-in hybrid vehicles (HEV and PHEVs), Grid energy storage and frequency regulation. Developed models to predict capacity fade and resistance rise during life of a cell under specific duty cycles.

Other employees listed in the lawsuit are Mujeeb Ijaz (A123 CTO), Don Dafoe (Cell Product Engineering), and Michael Erickson (Battery Materials Scientist). Many of the employees' profiles list them as still with A123, and none have any listed association with Apple. Dafoe's profile lists a "Bay area startup" as his place of employment since January 2015.

It is not clear what the A123 Systems employees hired by Apple are working on at the company or whether their work is related to the company's secret car project because Apple is constantly evolving its technology and working on a wide array of battery improvements for all of its future devices. The lawsuit suggests that A123 Systems is, however, concerned that Apple is working on something that competes with its own product lineup, which is focused on passenger and commercial electric vehicles.

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Top Rated Comments

Anangrypotato Avatar
122 months ago
Maybe they want a car battery in the Apple Watch
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ArtOfWarfare Avatar
122 months ago
Maybe they want a car battery in the Apple Watch
The 6+ runs for about 20 hours on a 2915 mAH battery.

Tesla makes 85 kAH batteries, which is equal to 29160 iPhone 6+ batteries.

So I figure you could run an iPhone 6+ for somewhere around 66 and a half years off of a fully charged Tesla battery. I think people might find that acceptable for an Apple Watch battery life. The battery only weighs somewhere around 900 pounds.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
gnasher729 Avatar
122 months ago
Google, Apple, Facebook and others just lost a lawsuit and probably have to pay a few hundred million dollars because they had agreements not to hire employees off each other, thereby making it harder for employees to move from one company to the other and making more money.

Surely if this goes to court Apple should insist on getting the same judge who just convicted them because of anti-poaching agreements.

Although I think non-compete clauses should be banned anyway, personally.
Germany allows anti-poaching agreements if there is reasonable compensation. So you say to your old company "I can work at Apple for $250,000 a year, or McDonald's for $10,000 a year. So either you let me work at Apple, or you pay me $240,000 a year".

Would there be a contract between A123 and Apple to not hire employees from each other this would be a different thing, and of course a whole new lawsuit alone.
As we know, the employees could sue them both and would win.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
bennibeef Avatar
122 months ago
I dont get this.. but I dont know much about that kinda stuff.

Apple gets a lawsuit for poaching people from another company, those people signed the contract and they broke it to work for Apple. Where is the illegal part on Apples side?

Would there be a contract between A123 and Apple to not hire employees from each other this would be a different thing, and of course a whole new lawsuit alone.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
JamesMike Avatar
122 months ago
A123 is probably looking at the deep-pockets of Apple.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Laird Knox Avatar
122 months ago
When will this stop?

I agree, non-compete clauses can be devastating for an individual.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)