Apple Sues SoC Startup Rivos for Poaching Employees and Stealing Trade Secrets
Apple has levied a lawsuit against RISC-V startup Rivos, a company that has hired several former high-ranking engineers from Apple. Rivos describes itself as a "startup in stealth mode," and according to Apple, Rivos not only poached Apple employees, but also stole chip trade secrets.
As noted by Reuters, the lawsuit that was filed last Friday accuses Rivos of hiring more than 40 former Apple employees over the course of the past year to work on system-on-chip (SoC) technology that competes with Apple's own A-series and M-series chips.
Apple claims that at least two former engineers (Bhasi Kaithamana and Wen Shih-Chieh, aka "Ricky") took "gigabytes of sensitive SoC specifications and design files" during their last few days working at Apple. Rivos is accused of launching a "coordinated campaign" to target employees with information about Apple's SoC designs.
"Stealth mode" startup Rivos, which was founded to design and market its own competing SoCs, has filled out its ranks with dozens of former Apple engineers. Starting in June 2021, Rivos began a coordinated campaign to target Apple employees with access to Apple proprietary and trade secret information about Apple's SoC designs. Apple promptly sent Rivos a letter informing Rivos of the confidentiality obligations of Apple's former employees, but Rivos never responded.
The employees who allegedly stole information are said to have used USB drives and AirDrop to offload sensitive Apple material to their own personal devices, as well as steal presentations on unreleased SoCs and save them to their cloud accounts. Apple believes that Rivos communicated with some employees through encrypted messaging apps, and the former Apple workers who allegedly participated in the theft of information attempted to wipe their Apple devices to try to cover their tracks.
In the lawsuit, Apple said that it had no choice but to sue because of the volume of information taken, the nature of the information stolen, and that the employees are "now performing the same duties for a competitor with ongoing access to some of Apple's most valuable trade secrets."
Kaithamana, one of the specific employees accused of data theft, allegedly copied thousands of Apple documents containing "proprietary and trade secret information" over the course of a week in August 2021. He copied the files on his work computer before transferring them to a USB drive, and Apple's lawsuit goes into detail about the specific data that he collected.
Wen, a second employee that allegedly stole info, transferred 390 gigabytes of data from his Apple-issued computer to a personal hard drive just before departing the company. Apple says that he stole information on both current and unreleased SoCs, accessing proprietary data just before the file transfer.
Between July 26, 2021 and July 29, 2021, Mr. Wen transferred approximately 390 gigabytes from his Apple-issued computer to a personal external hard drive. Among the data transferred are confidential Apple documents describing Apple trade secrets, including aspects of the microarchitecture for Apple's past, current, and unreleased SoCs.
Other Apple employees not specifically named in the lawsuit also connected external hard drives to their Apple-issued computers shortly after being hired by Rivos, and at the same time, were accessing Apple trade secret information about SoC designs.
Apple is asking for an injunction against the employees who joined Rivos to prevent them from continuing to leak sensitive data, compensation for the loss caused by trade secret misappropriation, and additional damages for "unjust enrichment" Rivos gained from Apple's data. In lieu of damages, Apple is asking for "a reasonable royalty rate" from Rivos. Apple has requested a jury trial, so we are likely to hear more from the Apple v. Rivos dispute going forward.
For those interested, the full lawsuit can be read over on Scribd.