Apple seeks dismissal of battery maker's poaching lawsuit

Lawsuit accuses Apple of luring away key engineers to work within a new battery division, fueling speculation that the iPhone maker has ambitions of developing an electric car of its own.

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3 min read

Apple argues that A123 Systems' lawsuit lacks facts supporting the charges. James Martin/CNET

Apple asked a federal court on Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a maker of batteries for electric cars. The suit, by A123 Systems, accuses the iPhone maker of poaching key engineers, and Apple argues that the complaint is based on unfounded speculation.

A123 Systems filed the suit last month in Massachusetts federal court against Apple and five of its former employees now working there. The suit alleges that Apple conducted an "aggressive campaign" last year to recruit employees who performed critical development and testing activities. The lawsuit appeared to provide further evidence that the iPhone maker is aiming to develop an electric car.

The motion comes a week after Apple filed another motion with the court requesting more time to respond to the lawsuit, saying that it was " exploring potential resolution of this matter with plaintiff."

Apple and A123 Systems representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A123 Systems contended in its complaint that its five former employees were hired to perform the same functions at Apple that they had performed at A123, violating noncompete and nondisclosure agreements each employee had signed. But in its motion Tuesday, Apple countered that A123 Systems' complaint does not contain any facts to support those allegations.

"It does not identify what information, documents or files any of the individual defendants purportedly copied, retained or disclosed," Apple's motion said. "Nor does it identify which individual defendants allegedly took any such materials or when and how they allegedly disclosed this material to Apple."

Apple also argued that A123 Systems' allegation that Apple engaged in "raiding" its workforce should be dismissed because Massachusetts law does not prohibit such activity.

A123 Systems develops energy-storage systems for a variety of commercial and industrial applications, including "advanced energy storage for electric-drive vehicles." A123 fueled speculation that Apple is developing an electric car when it claimed in its lawsuit that "Apple is currently developing a large-scale battery division to compete in the very same field as A123."

Apple also rebutted this charge, noting that the noncompete agreements only prohibit former employees from developing, manufacturing, marketing or selling a product or service that competes with an A123 Systems product or service.

"Nothing in the complaint suggests that the individual defendants are working on any product that would compete with any A123 products," Apple said. "Notably, the complaint admits that Apple and A123 do not compete: Apple is a consumer-electronics company that develops and purchases batteries for use in Apple products, whereas A123 manufactures and sells batteries for sale to commercial and industrial customers."

Rumors started swirling last month that Apple is creating a team charged with designing an electric car to take on Tesla and others. Apple has not commented, but several rumors have cropped up that Apple has hired people from the automotive industry and seems poised to build an electric vehicle that may or may not drive itself. Technologies like those developed by A123 Systems would be key to getting an electric-car effort on the road.

Apple is pushing its development team to have the car ready for production as early as 2020, Bloomberg reported last month, citing unidentified sources described as having knowledge of the matter. The team, which is said to have about 200 employees, has been growing in recent months and now includes experts in technologies such as batteries and robotics, the news agency reported.