A manufacturer of electric car batteries has filed a law suit against Apple accusing the tech giant of poaching its experts.
The case seems to confirm the speculations, which Apple refused to comment on, that the firm is eyeing the fledgling driverless car sector.
Massachusetts-based A123 Systems, maker of advanced lithium-ion batteries and energy storage systems for transportation, said Apple had approached multiple of its leading experts since mid-2014 persuading them to switch companies.
"Apple is currently developing a large-scale battery division to compete in the very same field as A123," stated the lawsuit filed earlier this month and discovered by legal website law360.com.
According to A123 Systems, by leaving the firm for Apple to pursue basically identical projects, the engineers involved breached their contracts.
In addition to Apple, A123 Systems is also suing five of its former employees. Neither of the parties involved commented on the case.
A123 Systems said the departure of its prominent experts caused serious problems to the company as many of the projects the experts were in charge of had to be abandoned.
The firm reported one of the five defendants, Mujeeb Ijaz, was actively involved in helping Apple approach talent within the company.
"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," the lawsuit stated.
"They are doing so in an effort to support Apple's apparent plans to establish a battery division that is similar if not identical to A123's, in competition with A123."
The affected firm also hinted Apple may have its sights on engineers of other technology companies in the field including LG Chem, Samsung and Panasonic.
Reuters said it found evidence on Linkedin that Apple has recently hired tens of automotive engineers and car software developers from companies including Tesla Motors.
Poaching of employees among high tech companies is something Apple has been fighting against in the past. The firm’s late CEO Steve Jobs reportedly initiated a deal between major US tech companies including Google, Intel and Adobe, preventing them from hiring each other’s experts.
The secret agreement, considered by many to be a conspiracy designed to prevent engineers from getting better paid jobs elsewhere, gave rise to a major lawsuit in 2011. A group of engineers that saw their careers harmed by the arrangement was supported by a court in California, which wants the firms to pay a major settlement.
Following the footsteps of rival Google that launched trials of driverless vehicles last year, the move toward autonomous cars represents a major departure from Apple’s existing strategy.
An undisputed leader in consumer technology, the firm would have to acquire a completely new field of expertise.
However, as Reuters pointed out, Apple has researched various projects in the past which were later abandoned.
A123 Systems is a pioneering industrial lithium-ion battery maker, which was backed by a $249m US government grant. It filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and has been selling off assets.