Apple fiercely protects its IP, and it is suing a startup based in California for stealing its chip’s trade secrets.
The Cupertino-based company alleges Rivos, in conjunction with two former Apple employees, tried to develop its own chip lineup using Apple’s technical know-how. The former staff in question are Bhasi Kaithamana and Ricky Wen.
In the lawsuit, Apple claimed Rivos tried to lure its employees and urged them to bring confidential documents to help Rivos’ development. This is the classic David-vs-Goliath case, but Apple insists Rivos is seeking an unfair advantage by using its employees to gain access to highly-protected documents.
Rivos is barely a year old but has been poaching employees from the big tech companies, showing the startup is serious with its ambitions. Apple claims it has lost more than 40 staffers to Rivos, including those involved in Apple’s System on Chip (SoC) work. According to Apple, Rivos targets employees with access to documents and encourages them to steal as much as possible before leaving.
One of the two ex-Apple employees, Kaithamana, worked for almost eight years while Wen was on Apple’s payroll for nearly 14 years. Needless to say, both had signed an intellectual property agreement that prevented them from releasing proprietary assets. However, Apple noted that Kaithamana copied work documents to a flash drive before leaving last August. The copied documents were named “APPLE_WORK_DOCS.”
Apple also alleges Wen took files that included its trade secrets and also copied his Apple-issued computer hard drive before leaving.
The lawsuit says, “The sheer volume of information taken, the highly sensitive nature of that information, and the fact that these employees are now performing the same duties for a competitor with ongoing access to some of Apple’s most valuable trade secrets, leave Apple with few alternatives.”
Trade secrets have been the focus of contention between tech companies for years, as they all try to one-up one another. One of the most famous cases involved former Google and Waymo staff Anthony Lewandoski, who got an 18 months prison sentence. He was accused of leaking proprietary info to a startup that Uber later bought. Interestingly, Apple’s legal counsel in the Rivos case represented Uber in the Lewandoski case.
Meanwhile, not all cases of IP theft are as clear as Apple’s claim against Rivos. For example, Mark Zuckerberg was accused of stealing the idea for Facebook from the Winklevoss brothers, but the case was settled out of court.
However, not all acts of copying a company’s private documents are trade secret thefts, meaning Apple still has to prove it. At best, it is sometimes a violation of an employment contract. Apple is already claiming that Rivos’ chip architecture is very similar to its own, although for unreleased chips.
Some experts have worried that bigger companies may use trade secret theft claims to weaken newer companies, but Apple claimed it had sent a letter to Rivos informing it of the suspected theft. However, Rivos did not reply, forcing Apple to approach the courts.