A123 Files Suit For Apple Poaching Battery Talent

FEB 21 2015 BY TDILLARD 16

Via an article on Law360, there’s a report that A123 Systems, the originally Waltham, Massachusetts-based battery company, now in Livonia, Michigan and owned by the Wanxiang Group (China), has filed a claim that Apple poached some of its battery development people:  “alleging Apple hired away five employees who developed new battery technology and products and tested existing products, despite the fact that the employees were under contracts with noncompete, nonsolicit, and nondisclosure obligations.”

(image via cool-apple-logos)

Apple: battery poacher?

“Since June, Apple has been mounting “an aggressive campaign to poach employees of A123 and to otherwise raid A123’s business,” the complaint said.

The battery maker said its employees Mujeeb Ijaz, Don Dafoe, Michael Erickson, Depeng Wang and Indrajeet Thorat left A123 under suspicious circumstances. All were part of the company’s System Venture Technologies Division, which Ijaz headed before leaving in June, with remaining employees leaving this year, according to the suit. Erickson, Wang and Thorat are PhD scientists who were each in charge of separate projects, the suit said.

A123 is no stranger to the court system, with some of the most dramatic and engaging stories of intellectual property intrigue in the battery business.  Though founded in 2001 by Dr. Yet-Ming Chiang, Dr. Bart Riley, and Ric Fulop – all of MIT – with a revolutionary lithium “nano-phosphate” chemistry claimed to have been developed by the school, competing claims to the technology also arise from the University of Texas and the legendary figure in the history of lithium battery development, John Goodenough.

A123 25560 cylindrical cell

A123 25560 cylindrical cell

From an excerpt of the book “Bottled Lightning” via Gizmodo:

On April 7 , 2006, the company (A123) filed an action seeking declaratory judgment against Hydro–Québec, arguing that “neither the lithium metal phosphate technology nor any other product made, used, or sold by A123 infringes” on either patent, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. On September 8 , they requested a reexamination of the patents, arguing that they overlapped with several Japanese patents that were filed earlier. Three days later, the fight came to a very public head. The University of Texas stepped in and, along with Hydro–Québec, sued everyone involved in manufacturing and marketing A123’s debut power–tool batteries: A123, Black & Decker, and China BAK Battery.

“Nearly a decade ago,” read an Austin American–Statesman article on the legal battle, “the University of Texas licensed two patents that were supposed to help power the next generation of laptop computers, cell phones and other staples of the tech age. Today, the university says, this longer–lived and more powerful lithium–ion battery is finally hitting the mass market . . . The problem, according to the university, is that Black & Decker is essentially bootlegging its technology.”

(Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy is available from Amazon.com)

Categories: Apple, Battery Tech

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16 Comments on "A123 Files Suit For Apple Poaching Battery Talent"

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They’re suing Apple? Why? The non-compete agreements were with the employees, not Apple.

Whether post-employment agreements with former employees are enforceable are another matter. I’m guessing not.

A123’s cause of action against Apple would be tortious interference with a contract (between A123 and its employees).


Post-employment non-compete agreements are enforceable for up to three years.

Post-employment non-competes are all but illegal in California.

Michigan law applies, not California law. The employees worked at A123 Systems, which is located in Livonia, Michigan. These were contracts for employment in Michigan.

I don’t see why job poaching is so illegal or even unethical. Individuals should be free to associate or disassociate voluntarily with whomever they wish. What’s unethical is A123 crawling to government to prevent free market forces from influencing labor. These people have a right to go to their competitor if they want to. If A123 can’t retain employees, and they value their people so much, maybe they should do a better job with retainment- either through better pay, or voluntary non-compete agreements.

It depends on whether an employee is an at-will employee or entered into an employment contract with the employer. If an employee agrees to and signs an employment contract with their employer, the employer would be entitled to damages if the employee subsequently breaches that employment contract.

That’s the reason California courts have held that non-compete employment agreements interfere with an employee’s ability to be able to have free movement in employment. Other states such as Michigan don’t agree.

In addition to slavery, I thought indentured servitude was also banned in the USA. LOL

No. We still have “Internships”. 😉

Hahaha a Chinese company suing an American company for stealing IP. I don’t feel bad one bit. And yes I read the article and know it’s people but close enough to ip.

Poached Apples with vanilla and cinnamon. Mmmm…

Apple has been poaching talent from all sorts of industries. Can’t blame the talent for going to companies that appreciate them better and can keep them employed longer.

Maybe if employees were compensated well for their work , rather than worthless executives taking the credit and ridiculous salaries, this wouldn’t happen…..

Apparently the Chinese haven’t figured out that in California noncompete, nonsolicit, and nondisclosure clauses are unenforceable absent unusual circumstances. Like if it’s the CEO. An engineer? Ba ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

Apparently you haven’t figured out these employees worked in Michigan and signed employment contracts in Michigan where noncompete, nonsolicit, and nondisclosure clauses are enforceable. Michigan law applies, not California law. Who’s laughing now? 😉

Apple receives it zon both ends. Sued for Non-Poaching agreements with other tech companies. And now sued for Poaching And not using such agreements.


Considering this article….

Maybe Tesla is actually doing the “Poaching” through proxy of Apple?