(Adds names of other companies that A123 says Apple is
approaching para 10-12)
By Deepa Seetharaman and Edwin Chan
SAN FRANCISCO Feb 18 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.
Apple has been poaching engineers with deep expertise in car
systems, including from Tesla Inc, and talking with
industry experts and automakers with the ultimate aim of
learning how to make its own electric car, an auto industry
source said last week.
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 programs 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 law360.com.
Neither Apple nor A123 immediately responded to requests for
comment and Apple has not responded to the allegations in the
complaint. The company also sued five former A123 employees, who
could not be reached for comment.
A123 Systems is a pioneering industrial lithium-ion battery
maker, which was backed by a $249 million U.S. 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 specializes
in big batteries that can be used in big machines, including
cars. A123 did not say what specifically the engineers worked
It said in its lawsuit that the engineers who left were of
such caliber 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 among its
"It appears that Apple, with the assistance of defendant
Ijaz, is systematically hiring away A123's high-tech PhD and
engineering employees, thereby effectively shutting down various
projects/programs at A123," according to the lawsuit.
"They are doing so in an effort to support Apple's apparent
plans to establish a battery division that is similar if not
identical to A123's, in competition with A123."
In its complaint, A123 said it believed Apple was looking to
hire other battery engineers from companies including LG Chem
Ltd, Samsung SDI Co Ltd, Panasonic Corp
, Toshiba Corp and Johnson Controls Inc
. None of the companies immediately responded to requests
A123 added that former executive Ijaz also contacted its
battery partner SiNode Systems on behalf of Apple. Ijaz's
outreach to SiNode "confirms that his work on behalf of Apple is
at least substantially similar (if not identical) to his work at
A123," the filing said.
SiNode did not respond to a request for comment.
Trying to build an actual car would mark a dramatic shift
for the maker of the iPhone and iPad. Apple often researches
projects which are then discarded, but has so far mainly stuck
to its core expertise in mobile and electronic devices.
Whether it will build and release an electric car or a more
evolved autonomous vehicle remains to be seen, the source told
Reuters last week. But evidence is mounting that the maker of
smartphones and other mobile gadgets is, like Google Inc
, researching and developing next-generation car
Silicon Valley is competing to create software to run
self-driving vehicles, as well as services associated with
autonomous driving, such as mapping, car-sharing and car
Data on LinkedIn, the professional networking site, shows
that Apple has been siphoning up automotive engineers and
experts, many with expertise in autonomous driving technology,
at a significant pace.
A search of LinkedIn profiles turns up more than 60 former
Tesla employees now employed by Apple, including dozens of
hardware, software, manufacturing and supply chain engineers.
There are also a variety of ex-Tesla recruiters, retail or sales
specialists, attorneys and product managers.
Apart from the five defendants, at least six other ex-A123
engineers had moved over to Apple, according to their LinkedIn
profiles, though with titles like "Technical Program Manager,"
their duties at Apple are unclear.
(Additional reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Peter
Henderson, Lisa Shumaker and Stephen Coates)