SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – 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 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 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 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 specifically the engineers 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 among its ranks.
“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/programmes 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.”