Apple has accused “stealth-mode” start-up Rivos in a lawsuit of poaching its engineers to steal trade secrets used to develop its homegrown chip designs that make iPhones more powerful.
Rivos, which has hired dozens of Apple engineers, began a “coordinated campaign” in June 2021 to target Apple’s employees, the Cupertino, California-based company said.
The former employees left to join Rivos after stealing “highly sensitive” proprietary and trade secret information about Apple’s “system-on-chip” designs, including its M1 laptop and A15 mobile phone chips, according to the complaint filed in federal court in San Jose, California.
“Apple has devoted billions of dollars to this critical work,” the company said.
Two former Apple engineers who joined Rivos for “parallel roles” were named as defendants in the suit for allegedly breaching intellectual property agreements they had signed. The agreements required them to refrain from copying confidential proprietary information during their time at the company and return such materials before they left, Apple claims.
Rivos and Apple didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
The complaint against Rivos is the latest by Apple targeting ex-employees who left to join start-ups.
Apple in 2019 sued a former chip executive, Gerard Williams III, for allegedly betraying the company by launching a start-up that develops processors for data centres after luring its employees to join his venture. That dispute is headed for trial in San Jose state court in October 2023.
Some Apple employees hired by Rivos transferred gigabytes of trade secret data, including presentations on current and unreleased chip designs, onto USB drives and their personal storage drives before leaving, the company claims.
“Apple has reason to believe that Rivos instructed at least some Apple employees to download and install apps for encrypted communications (for example, the Signal app) before communicating with them further,” the technology giant said in its complaint.