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A123 Sues Apple For Poaching Employees 196

An anonymous reader writes "Electric-car battery maker A123 Systems is suing Apple in federal court for allegedly poaching five employees to help it develop a competing battery business. The suit accuses the workers, including A123's former chief technology officer, of breaking noncompete and nonsolicit agreements. "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. The news adds some credibility to rumors that Apple is getting into the automotive market. "
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A123 Sues Apple For Poaching Employees

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now they complain when they do poach.

    Come on.

    • by binarylarry ( 1338699 ) on Friday February 20, 2015 @09:14AM (#49093863)

      And the lawyers win.

      • by rsborg ( 111459 )

        And the lawyers win.

        Disagree. Why does everyone forget the golden rule?

        He who has the Gold makes the Rules.

        Therefore, Bankers always win. Lawyers are hired help.

    • First people complain about not poaching
      Now they complain when they do poach.

      That's completely out of context. They're two completely different matters, and one is a matter of (largely) Federal law, the other of State law.

      Anti-poaching agreements like the one Apple had with other Silicon Valley companies, and other anti-poaching agreements between companies violate Federal antitrust laws, because they are essentially commercial agreements to not compete. Some States have laws similar to the Federal laws in that regard.

      Non-disclosure and non-compete agreements between company a

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 20, 2015 @09:21AM (#49093903)

    I can see it now - It comes in only white and silver, the hood doesn't open, tires cost twice as much as non-Apple tires, you have to buy your gas only from Apple gas stations and the windshield-wiper fluid is made from the tears of children. On the plus side, the exhaust smells like a combination of vanilla and smug.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ProzakLord ( 1087161 )
      You forgot having your per mile insurance being directly taken out of your appStore balance. But you get to know where all your friends are and what they are listenning to... Oh the joys of the automotive industry.
    • (...), you have to buy your gas only from Apple gas stations (...) On the plus side, the exhaust smells like a combination of vanilla and smug.

      It's more like it will be an electric car---and the plug will only be compatible with Apple charging station outlets---so, there will be no exhaust, and therefore no "plus side".

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      It's funny to joke about, but I think the concept of them only allowing it to be serviced at Apple-certified garages would be quite high. They'd probably allow the tires and the like to be done elsewhere, but I have little doubt that they'd restrict access to any internals. And would charge a fortune for trivial tasks.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        The GM EV1 electric car used special Michelin high-psi (like 90psi) tires to reduce rolling resistance without overly sacrificing grip.

        It's actually quite likely that such a thing could happen with a significant technology shift. In fact, since tires are this weird mish-mash of SAE and SI units, switching to an entirely SI-unit wheel and tire could be a way to enforce a hard-break between the tires for conventional operator-driven internal combustion vehicles and autonomous electric vehicles.

        I also f
        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          I think you're mixing some things up. The EV1's tires were standard size (P175/65R14) and only 50 PSI. They were low rolling resistance but nothing spectacular by modern standards. I certainly hope to see big advances in tires in the coming decades (we really need tires that can adapt to the circumstances, changing their pressure and thread area / type in contact with the ground area depending on conditions and driver demands), but there's no radical departures I'm aware of coming in the immediate future.


          • by TWX ( 665546 )
            Maybe I'm thinking of the "Impact" prototype version before they modified it for production.
          • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

            I can't think of a single EV today that is "harder to open". But as stated I can easily envision Apple doing that. I can't envision any of the current manufacturers doing that.

            Teslas are harder to open. The only thing you have access to is the windshield washer fluid. True, electric engines need less maintainance but you still have brake fluid, coolant, A/C, etc... While I guess it is still possible to service a Tesla yourself, it is clearly discouraged.

      • by Rakarra ( 112805 )

        It's funny to joke about, but I think the concept of them only allowing it to be serviced at Apple-certified garages would be quite high

        Pretty much all modern cars work that way already. To do any real work inside the car, you need access to the electronic system which is only accessible through special machines controlled by the manufacturer. The amount of work that independent mechanics can accomplish without becoming manufacturer-certified is pretty slim.

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      I think us mere mortals can only attempt to imagine the myriad things we do with our cars right now that Apple knows we don't really need them to do. I have a work iPhone that I just realised the other day cannot be used as a convenient way of transferring a file when you don't have anything else handy (well, not fucking easily). But then, Apple knows what's best for me - I don't really need to use the phone like that, do I? I'll find some other way. Or install iTunes. Or whatever you're meant to do to get
    • by ehiris ( 214677 )

      Don't forget that you'll need iTunes to load anything in the trunk, which will lose the contents any time there is an update.

    • Actually it use to be that lots of car manufacturers had odd tire sizes so you either ponied up the $$$$$$ for the same tires or you bought a whole wheel/tire set brand new and threw away the oem set snd sasved $$$$$$ in the long run.

      I got Mini wheels on my Yaris but needed to get two front tires. They were 50$ more than other brand name tires for a 175 65 r15

    • My apple car wont let me turn downt he dirt road to get to my driveway. It claims I am attempting to drive off the road!
    • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Friday February 20, 2015 @01:32PM (#49095365) Homepage

      I can see it now:

      Apple announces the Apple Car. It only comes in three styles (coupe, sedan, and light SUV), three colors each. It has no steering wheel, no pedals, and no user-maintainable parts. They are shiny, closed systems, are well-marketed, and work well, with some quirks here and there.

      Naturally, serious gearheads, tinkers, and the automotive industry chuckle at Apple's folly, as they know nothing about what cars are supposed to be.

      Naturally, it turns out that Apple knows a good deal about what the typical person would actually like in a car, and they sell millions of 'em.

      Naturally, this leads to gearheads clawing their eyes out with rage at the sheer stupidity and worthlessness of the ordinary driver. Quirks are held up as fatal flaws, a sign that Apple exists solely because of slick commercials and glitzy designs.

      Naturally, this leads to the auto industry spending the next five to seven years trying to play catch-up to Apple. Each automaker ends up changing pretty much their entire fleet to match the Apple Car's functionality and style.

      Naturally, the auto industry eventually catches up to Apple Cars--and eclipses them, in some ways.

      Naturally, the gearheads all roll their eyes at the morons who are still buying and driving Apple Cars, when the cars made by the industry are so clearly superior.

      Rumors begin to circulate that Apple is designing a spacecraft.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      You left out that when it breaks it is your fault. You were driving it wrong.

    • by Rakarra ( 112805 )

      I can see it now - It comes in only white and silver, the hood doesn't open

      Oh, the hood opens... to reveal another hood that doesn't. Or more accurately, it would feature a flat metallic mass that you can't really do anything with (like a "black box"). Which is pretty much how modern cars work where it's expected the user will not do any maintenance beyond changing the oil and inflating the tires.

    • The funny part is - the original "if apple made a car " troll is very likely older than you.
  • by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Friday February 20, 2015 @09:31AM (#49093929)
    Yes, because there's no way that a company that makes portable electronics would have an interest in someone knowledgeable about batteries unless they were making cars...
    • by kuzb ( 724081 ) on Friday February 20, 2015 @09:46AM (#49093999)

      Making a battery for a car is way different from making a battery for a portable device. They have to have a completely different set of tolerances, and energy density in a car has to be far greater in a car than in a portable device. Apple is not very knowledgeable of innovative when it comes to battery technologies. When it comes their advances in battery longevity, this is almost exclusively done in software. Apple doesn't really invent hardware components. They're more like lego fans who arrange existing hardware in to their own configurations.

      • Making a battery for a car is way different from making a battery for a portable device.

        yes, it's different, but

        They have to have a completely different set of tolerances,

        Not really. Both have to be protected from intense shock, and ongoing vibration. See, people put their cellphone in their car...

        and energy density in a car has to be far greater in a car than in a portable device.

        Wrong again. Energy density is of critical importance in both applications. The chief difference is in charge/discharge rates, and the chief difference there is in electrode design.

        Apple doesn't really invent hardware components. They're more like lego fans who arrange existing hardware in to their own configurations.

        Except they do, they worked on their own ARM chip at one time for example.

        • the chief difference is how important the # of life cycles you can get is. With smaller batteries it's only slightly important, with electric car batteries it's a huge deal .

          • the chief difference is how important the # of life cycles you can get is. With smaller batteries it's only slightly important, with electric car batteries it's a huge deal .

            It's a huge deal with any kind of battery. It's a huge deal with cellphone batteries because people run them down all the time, and many of them are now non-replaceable.

            • What kind of idiot would buy a cell phone with a non-replaceable battery? That would be even more stupid than if it had a proprietary data-cable port. Nobody in their right mind would but such a crippled device.

        • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday February 20, 2015 @11:27AM (#49094425) Homepage

          No, the GP is correct. The requirements for vehicles are radically different for portable electronics, and this leads to very different design choices. Tell me when was the last time you saw an iPod with an air conditioner just to cool its battery pack (which sometimes runs even when the iPod isn't in use), or a heater for cold weather charging? When was the last time you saw a iPhone with a battery that was warrantied for as much as a decade? When was the last time you saw an iPad that was rated by the manufacturer to have no problems after sitting out every day every winter in temperatures of -20C, summer temperatures of +40C with no shade, etc? When was the last time you saw any sort of portable electronics that broke its batteries up into separately sealed canisters that prevent fire from propagating from one to the next, or that can withstand a highway-speed collision? Portable electronics generally don't even do any charge balancing, let alone the sort of "be able to handle the loss of entire clusters of batteries" sort of management that vehicle packs have to be able to do (eg, rather than single cell or a couple-cells-in-series like consumer electronics, the Roadster has 6831 cells clustered into "bricks" of 69 cells in parallel to minimize the effects of individual failures, 9 bricks series per sheet, and 11 sheets, with moderate monitoring and control at the brick level and heavy monitoring and control at the sheet level).

          The requirements are not similar, and as a consequence, neither are the packs.

          Wrong again. Energy density is of critical importance in both applications.

          No, you are the one who is again wrong. EV battery packs are generally significantly lower energy density than portable electronics battery packs, AND they generally run at lower DOD ranges, not charging up to full and not being allowed to even near total discharge. Often a lower-density chemistry is used as well for the same longevity reasons, such as a phosphate or manganese spinel (although a couple manufacturers, Tesla being the most notable, currently use cobalt 18650s). This sort of careful charge maintenance and lower density chemistry election, plus charge balancing, temperature maintenance, and fault isolation and tolerance are necessary to meet the sort of longevity demands of vehicle consumers, which are very different from the longevity demands of users of portable electronics.

          The two top demands of EV battery packs are longevity and cost, and these far outstretch the importance of energy density. People could give a rat's arse if their car is 50 kilos lighter if they can't afford to purchase it or have to swap out the pack after three years. Don't get me wrong, weight is an important issue (mainly in terms of ride quality, and to a smaller degree efficiency), but it's not on the same order of magnitude of effect in terms of marketability as longevity and cost.

          • by kuzb ( 724081 )

            I just checked out the energy density thing, seems I got that backwards in my post. Thanks, your post was incredibly informative.

      • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Friday February 20, 2015 @10:19AM (#49094163)
        Apple's expertise in cellphones was considered to be a joke when they were rumoured to be working on a phone. People pointed at them and laughed saying, "Motorola and Nokia will eat them for a snack."

        There were huge scholarly style articles breaking down the myriad of reasons apple couldn't succeed. I even read an interview with a blackberry employee who said that when they saw the iPhone they were all relieved that it was going to be a flop as they knew with certainty that it could only have a 1 hour battery life as a computer plus a screen plus a transmitter would require a battery that was much larger than the one that must be inside. Then the guy said that blackberry crapped its collective pants when they got their first iPhone and found that it had a pretty good battery life and that inside the thing was mostly battery as Apple had managed to uber shrink the computer/transmitter part and that the screen was really thin.

        I am not saying that Apple will succeed but that to suggest that they will fail because they haven't been doing this for 50 years would be foolish.

        That said; one of my theories is that they don't really intend on building a production car but to build awesome prototypes that will teach them what an all electric self driving car will be like and how apple could sell things that will make it better. Plus they will no doubt build up a portfolio of car patents that will pay for the whole effort.

        But on the other hand, self driving cars combined with electric cars combined with new materials such as aluminum and carbon fibre are a transition point for the automotive industry. This might allow a competitor such as apple to completely end run the industry because all those years making gas driven drive trains and the complexities in making a great steering system all vanish in this transition. This might then leave the car companies with a legacy of old school engineers who have "seniority" a legacy of pension costs, a legacy of factories not suitable for modern materials, a general lack of computer knowledge, and a legacy of sleazy dealerships. All things that would hold the old school people back.
        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          This might allow a competitor such as apple to completely end run the industry because all those years making gas driven drive trains

          You mean, like Tesla already did?

          complexities in making a great steering system all vanish in this transition.

          Wait, you're talking self-driving cars with *no* manual override? Okay, that's going to be permitted first thing, in the year 2047... ;)

          a legacy of factories not suitable for modern materials

          A widespread transition to composites (which I really, really hope for) could

          • You mean, like Tesla already did?

            In what way? All Tesla has done is make a car like the other kinds of cars already around, just using an all electric engine. It does not drive itself for example, it does not have an interior substantially different from any other luxury sedan.

            An "end run" implies whatever company making it is utterly dominating the market with a totally unique product. Tesla has built some impressive cars but they are far from doing anything like that.

            But someone needs to find a way to m

            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              You're joking, right? Before Tesla the stereotype of an electric car was a nerdy thing with the performance of a golf cart. They completely changed the public perception of electric cars, built vehicles with double the performance and range of the previous best electric cars, getting some of the highest car reviews and satisfaction ratings *ever* given for *any* type of car, and managed to start a brand new car company with a huge valuation, the first new US car company to make it big since the 1930s. Give

            • by kuzb ( 724081 )

              Tesla didn't just build a car, they built a series of important innovations in batteries and battery charging, and then made it so that they wouldn't enforce patents on anything. Now anyone can design their own batteries based on Tesla's design.

              That might not seem like much to you, but I assure you that it's a pretty big deal.

          • Ford is building aluminum trucks, Corvettes have been fiberglass for longer than I have been alive, and epoxy-carbon is pretty much how high end race cars and exotic street cars are made now. We ARE doing all this stuff - just needs to scale up.
            • by Rei ( 128717 )

              Yes, aluminum is slowly becoming more adopted - although "slowly" is the operative word. Corvettes are not mass manufactured (tens of thousands per year) and are made of single-layer e-glass with polyester, which kind of sucks. Supercars are built better but are in much smaller quantities. And the point of needing to make them affordable and scaling up, that's my point. :)

        • by kuzb ( 724081 )

          You're right. Apple did great, and their portable electronics made them more than any other thing they've ever done. There's nothing wrong with being really good at lego-like construction. However the point here is that apple doesn't do a lot of their own component-level construction. It's logical and smart for them to hire specific expertise in specialized areas for things like battery design which is not so simple as people think it is.

          I don't like Apple as a company, but there's no denying the signif

      • by zieroh ( 307208 )

        Apple doesn't really invent hardware components. They're more like lego fans who arrange existing hardware in to their own configurations.

        Like most slashdot commenters, you appear all too eager to telegraph your complete and utter lack of knowledge to the world. Loudly.

        • The list of hardware tech that Apple has developed is small and underwhelming. It's not zero length, but it's nearly zero impressiveness.

          • The original Apples had innovative hardware, such as Wozniak's disk controller. The Mac had at least different types of components, including better monitors and CPUs. There was a period in which Apple tried offering a monitor that when connected to a Microsoft-OS computer would be high-end color, and it went nowhere because it was inferior. Eventually the rest of the computer industry caught up with Apple. The Newton, Pippin, and Cube were innovative, if not necessarily successful.

            More recently, the

          • This is where a group of idiots declares that Apple doesn't invent anything, their employees only "integrate" technology invented elsewhere. As someone who (a) invents hardware technology for a living, and (b) doesn't work for Apple, I can tell you with absolute certainty that you are completely full of shit. Apple does a huge amount of hardware R & D.

      • You just gave a nice list of reasons why Apple might want to hire some competent battery engineers.

        1. Absent internal knowledge
        2. Current products have far lower energy density than other possible batteries
        3. All gains currently employed are from software, and that's grown to maturity with diminishing returns setting in.

        Yeah, I can't possibly think why they would want to hire some Ph. Ds that know battery technology and start working their own hardware.

  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BenFenner ( 981342 ) on Friday February 20, 2015 @09:42AM (#49093979)
    Weren't we up in arms about the artificial wage stagnation due to silicon valley employers agreeing not to "poach" (AKA participate in capitalism) each other's employees?
    If A123 wants to keep their employees, they might have to *gasp* offer them better conditions/compensation? The horror.
    • We're still up in arms, I think. Frankly, I'm on the employees side. if A123 wanted to retain them, the way to do it wasn't by holding the threat of law over them. Instead, they should pay them more. Non-competes are illegal in California and for good reason. It is a fundamental right to be able to work at your chosen profession. Any court that upholds a non-compete is violating basic human rights and the constitution of the United States of America and the court needs to be removed from authority.
    • While it may be a dick move from Apple's part, I don't see a problem with this. People should be free to work for whoever the hell they damn well please and should not be able to sign their rights to do so away.

  • by Timothy Hartman ( 2905293 ) on Friday February 20, 2015 @09:52AM (#49094029)
    They weren't holding their employees correctly.
  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Friday February 20, 2015 @10:07AM (#49094097)
    Our supreme court made a supremely wonderful decision on this very issue. Basically they said, that people in Canada have the right to work for anyone they want, where they want, and when they want. Also people are free to communicate thus can "poach" all they want and that any contract to the contrary would be a rights violation and thus those parts are null.

    This particular decision actually even went further by saying that poaching clients was fine as well as long as the contact information was reasonably in someone's head.

    The result would be that the only place that a non-compete could stand would be if there was another aspect such as the sale of a business. So if someone sold their business for $10,000,000 and then violated an agreed to non-compete there could be a lawsuit to recover some portion of the sale price. But they couldn't get any kind of injunction that would violate your constitutional rights only a monetary judgment.

    So while our rights tend to be viewed as less black and white than the US constitution I was pretty much bouncing in my seat and clapping my hands when this decision came down the pipe as a serious blow against corporate tyranny.
    • I think in some states the non-compete and similar are illegal. So companies incorporate in the states that allow that.
    • by reanjr ( 588767 )

      This is also how California works (where Apple is located). But NOT how Massachusetts works (where A123 is located).

    • With all due respect Mr.Emperor, you are incorrect. One may find analysis of the judgment you reference here:
      http://www.ehlaw.ca/whatsnew/0... [ehlaw.ca]

      The decision really has little to do with non-compete clauses in general. A non-compete is only the occasion for the suit not the thrust of the appeal. Rather it has more to do with what happens when a contract (in this case the non-compete) is vague.

      In Canada a non-compete is valid as long as it is reasonable, specific, and limited in scope.

  • Didn't Apple just lose a suit over the legality of noncompete and nonsolicit agreements?

  • by CPIMatt ( 206195 ) on Friday February 20, 2015 @10:41AM (#49094267)

    I am sorry, but if you have a 371 million dollar IPO and then are bankrupt three years later, that is horrible mismanagement. Smart employees are going to leave a company like that.


  • I'm sure someone will correct me:

    I believe A123 had an exclusive with GM/Chevrolet for some time that precluded them from selling to competitors, or to the public. The enthusiast community in the US (electric car, bike, etc kits) then had to rely on re-importing A123 batteries from China/black market that had potentially been exported from the US into the grey market. This made them tough to get, but they had an ideal form factor, power density and draw rate.

    If this play by Apple can change that scenario at all, it would be a big move.

  • Rock star status (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RogueWarrior65 ( 678876 ) on Friday February 20, 2015 @11:36AM (#49094493)

    Actually, I'm all for engineers attaining rock star status. Let the bidding begin. Although agents and head hunters will have to actually work for the engineers and not the employers as they do now.

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