Apple sued a former employee who worked at the company for more than a decade, claiming he shared its trade secrets with a media contact in exchange for favorable coverage of a startup he invested in.
Simon Lancaster is accused of serving as the reporter's source of information, a role that allegedly deepened after he left Apple, and of sharing closely guarded details of unreleased hardware, unannounced feature changes and future product announcements, according to the complaint filed Thursday in federal court in San Jose, California.
“The deceitful and indefensible release of these product details enabled by Lancaster's misappropriation has undermined the morale of the teams that worked on the products and features in question,” according to Apple.
Lancaster isn't the only former Apple employee accused of betraying the company. In 2019, Apple sued its former lead chip architect, Gerard Williams III, after he left and launched a startup. Williams, who is accused of poaching Apple employees, has claimed in court filings that the technology giant did the same to him.
Meanwhile, two former Apple engineers who worked on the company's secretive self-driving car project are awaiting trial on criminal trade-secret theft charges after they defected to Chinese companies. Both have pleaded not guilty.
“Tens of thousands of Apple employees work tirelessly every day on new products, services, and features in the hopes of delighting our customers and empowering them to change the world,” Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock said. “Stealing ideas and confidential information undermines their efforts, hurting Apple and our customers.”
Apple claims Lancaster worked closely with his media source starting in late 2018 and into 2019, saying that they coordinated to steal specific documents and product details and sometimes met in person to exchange the information. The Cupertino, California-based company didn't disclose the media source or who they work for.
In the spring of 2019, Lancaster vented to the reporter that he was irritated with Apple due to a story reporting a rumour about a new hardware product, saying “it could mean trouble for my startup.” Less than two weeks later, according to Apple, Lancaster told a third party that the journalist had committed to publishing an article about his startup in exchange for proprietary information he was disclosing about Apple.
Apple said it's still investigating the matter, examining the devices Apple issued to Lancaster for work. After Lancaster resigned in October 2019, Apple says, he went to work for one of the iPhone maker's vendors and is probably still using the stolen trade secrets.
Lancaster went from Apple to Arris Composites, according to a November 2019 press release issued by the Berkeley, California-based company. The statement described Lancaster's new role as head of consumer products and his background at Apple creating product materials and prototypes.
Neither Lancaster nor Arris Composites immediately responded to email messages seeking comment on Apple's lawsuit.
The case is Apple v. Lancaster, 21-cv-01707, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).
© 2021 Bloomberg LP
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