Apple Accused in Battery-Maker’s Lawsuit of Poaching Employees

Employees Poached, Apple Sued by A123 Systems

Apple Inc. was accused in a lawsuit of embarking on an aggressive campaign to poach employees from a lithium-ion battery maker amid reports that it’s developing an electric car.

The lawsuit, filed this month in Massachusetts state court by A123 Systems LLC, also accuses five of its former employees of violating non-disclosure agreements as they either went to work for Apple or planned to. The case was moved to federal court in Boston this week.

Apple rose to a record on Tuesday after people familiar with the matter last week said the Cupertino, California-based technology company is working to develop its own electric car, rocking the automotive industry.

Apple’s secretive electric-vehicle project, code-named Titan, may not lead to the company introducing an automobile, a person familiar with the matter has said. The vehicle resembles a minivan, the person said.

A123 rose to prominence in 2007 when then-General Motors Corp. worked with it to develop battery technology as the automaker prepared what would become the Chevrolet Volt, an electric-plug-in hybrid car. GM ultimately picked South Korea-based LG Chem Ltd. as the winner of the first battery contract for the Volt in 2009.

In its court case, A123 seeks an order barring one of its former employees from breaking his employment agreement and preventing Apple from encouraging him to do so. It also asks a judge to order the defendants to return any of the company’s confidential documents.

An Apple represenative didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail after regular business hours Wednesday seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Apple Plans

Optimism about Apple has been growing since Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook revealed larger-screened, pricier iPhones in September, helping to fuel record profit and adding to the company’s cash hoard, which totaled $178 billion at the end of December. The company’s market value stands at about $745 billion, making it the world’s largest company by that measure.

Under Cook, Apple has been expanding into new services and devices, such as mobile payments and a smartwatch, to capture more and more of consumers’ digital life.

Cook faces pressure from billionaire investor Carl Icahn to return more money to shareholders.

Wanxiang Group Corp. won approval from the U.S. government to acquire A123 out of bankruptcy reorganization in 2013.

The Waltham, Massachusetts-based battery maker filed for bankruptcy in October of 2012 after a previous deal with Wanxiang was scuttled amid congressional Republicans’ reluctance to allow its sale to a Chinese company.

The case is A123 Systems LLC v. Apple Inc., 15-cv-10438, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).

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