Is Apple Poaching Battery Engineers for Automotive Tech?

A Michigan-based maker of lithium-ion batteries has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Apple has poached several of its top-level scientists, engineers and technical managers with the goal of developing competing battery technology. The accusation is yet another sign that Apple might be looking to enter the market for electric and/or self-driving cars.

Filed this week in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, the suit by A123 Systems is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent Apple and a former A123 Systems employee from soliciting other employees at the battery company. It also asks the court to order the former employee not to violate the non-disclosure and non-competition agreements he was bound by at A123 Systems.

The lawsuit is the latest indication that the lines between the auto industry and the tech industry are growing ever more blurry. As automobile systems have become increasingly computerized, car companies seeking new hires have begun looking more to Silicon Valley. At the same time, tech companies like Google are deep into research on autonomous vehicles.

'Aggressive Campaign To Poach Employees'

According to the lawsuit, A123 Systems LLC v. Apple Inc., Mujeeb Ijaz, Don Dafoe, Michael Erickson, DaPeng Wang and Indrajeet Thorat, the battery-maker says Apple is "systematically hiring away A123's high tech PhD and engineering employees, thereby effectively shutting down various projects/programs at A123. 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...."

A123 Systems alleges that Apple poached the employees named in the lawsuit, starting with Ijaz, who headed its Venture Technologies division based in Waltham, Massachusetts. The other employees all reported directly to Ijaz and have all begun working for Apple within the past month, according to the suit.

"Upon information and belief,...

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