Apple scoops up car engineers, sparking lawsuit over poaching

According to a court filing, the electric-car batterymaker A123 is suing Apple for allegedly poaching employees to build a large-scale battery division. Poaching is a very common practice in the tech industry.

Peter Kneffel
File - People queue in front of an apple store in Munich, Germany, Friday, Sept.19, 2014. The new iPhone 6 was released on Friday.

The electric-car batterymaker A123 is suing Apple for allegedly poaching top-tier talent to build a large-scale battery division, according to a court filing originally reported on by legal website

Rumors have been circulating for weeks about an Apple car, and the suit seems to be all but a confirmation that the Apple Watch is not the only new product that the Apple has been working on behind the scenes.

The suit accuses Apple of aggressively poaching A123’s “high-tech PhD and engineering employees” beginning last June. A123 went on to say in a filing to a Massachusetts federal court that these workers violated employee agreements to pursue similar projects at Apple.

A123 is also suing five former employees including Mujeeb Ijaz, who is being singled out for helping Apple recruit talent.

"Apple is currently developing a large-scale battery division to compete in the very same field as A123," the lawsuit reads. "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."

A123 has had a rough ride this past couple of years. Though the company was backed by a $249 million US government grant to advance the creation of industrial lithium-ion batteries, its specialty, A123 filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and was forced to sell off assets.

Apple only added to A123’s woes as the battery company attempted to turn itself around and had to shut down of major projects after the departure of essential talent.

Neither A123 nor Apple are commenting at the moment.

This is not the first time Apple has been accused of this practice. A source with Reuters says the tech giant has supposedly been busy hiring engineers with “deep expertise in car systems” from many companies, including Tesla (though the electric carmaker has hired plenty of Apple employees, as well.)

Aggressive talent grabs have been common practice among tech giants for years; whether it be entering illegal agreements to not enlist each other’s employees, or gobbling up start-ups exclusively for talent. The market for this popular form of hiring is so lucrative that two websites have been created to assist in the practice.

While Apple faces off with A123, it may be time for the giant to reflect on the ideas of its former, beloved co-founder. According to a banker who claims to have known Steve Jobs' opinion of mergers and acquisitions, he believed “acquiring a company was a sign of defeat; an admission of failure to innovate.” It is probably not an outlandish claim to say that poaching could fall into this opinion.

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