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Apple sues former contractor

In a move seen as a warning to potential blabbermouths, Apple files a lawsuit against a former contractor for allegedly leaking trade secrets.

Apple Computer has a message for people who reveal product details before the company does: We will sue.

On Wednesday, the company filed a civil lawsuit against Jose Lopez, a former Apple contractor accused of leaking information about redesigned Power Mac computers released in August.

The lawsuit comes less than a month before the San Francisco Macworld Expo, where Apple is expected to unveil updated versions of many of its "i" applications. Rumors about upcoming products tend to increase as one of the two major Macworld trade shows approaches. The timing of the lawsuit may not be accidental, analysts say.

"They are clearly timing this to warn other potential leakers," said IDC analyst Roger Kay. "You make the object lesson at the right moment."

"Apple has filed a civil complaint against Jose Lopez, previously employed by Apple as a contractor, who we believe stole Apple's trade secrets by posting schematic drawings, images and engineering details of an unannounced Apple product on the Internet," the company said in a statement.

"Innovation is in Apple's DNA, so the protection of trade secrets is crucial to our success," the statement continued. "Our policy is to take legal actions where necessary to preserve the confidentiality of our intellectual property."

But innovation isn't the only issue, Kay said.

"Apple really likes to take advantage of the element of surprise in its announcements," he explained. "They consider the loss of this as a material breach for them. They're making a point they are willing to sue, which should be a warning to anyone who has received confidential information and is thinking of leaking something out before the show."

Lopez could not be reached for comment.

Last week, the California District Attorney's office in Sacramento filed criminal charges against Lopez for the alleged leak of Apple trade secrets.

Doe 1
The lawsuit also names a second defendant, whose name apparently is unknown to Apple. She is identified as "Doe 1."

The lawsuit alleges that in mid-July Lopez or Doe 1 posted on the Internet images of the dual-processor Power Mac G4 computer. Apple released the new model about a month later.

Apple's larger concern would be the possibility of additional leaks, either by Lopez or Doe 1.

"Although Apple has conducted a diligent investigation, Apple cannot be certain that defendants are not continuing to misappropriate Apple's future product information," the lawsuit states. "Any continuing misappropriation will cause Apple to suffer great and irreparable harm and damage."

Apple didn't specify monetary damages it might seek from Lopez but will ask the court to award compensatory and exemplary damages, attorneys' fees and an injunction restraining Lopez from releasing future product information.

Lopez isn't the first former Apple employee or contractor to feel the company's ire. In August 2000, Apple sued an employee dubbed "worker bee," also for releasing images of dual-processor Power Mac G4s on the Internet.

Apple settled the lawsuit with "worker bee," later identified as Juan Gutierrez, in August 2001.