A hot potato: Apple is suing former high-level chip designer Gerard Williams, who was in charge of A-series processors used in iPhones and iPads. Williams allegedly violated his contract and is exploiting Apple technology in his new venture. At the same time, the lawsuit reveals the Cupertino company illegally monitors employee communications, which probably shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Last month, three former Apple chip execs launched a new company called Nuvia to take on established silicon giants like AMD and Intel on the data center market. It turns out that Apple isn’t happy about the new development, and is suing Nuvia founder Gerard Williams III. In the filing, which was submitted to the Santa Clara Superior Court in August, the company alleges that Williams violated contractual terms before he left to pursue his new venture.
Williams led the design of Apple’s A-series chips found in iPhone and iPad for nine years before he decided to leave the company last February.
Nuvia recently convinced investors to commit $53 million in funding to accelerate its growth. But Apple says Williams started his planning work on Nuvia back when he was still working at Cupertino. In doing that, he violated an intellectual property agreement that said he wasn’t supposed to work on anything that would be competitive with what Apple offers.
Apple is also upset about the fact that Williams managed to poach several of its engineers to help him on his new venture to create power-efficient server chips. Nuvia says that several of the provisions Apple uses in its contract violate California state laws, which favor employee mobility.
Nuvia notes that “Apple, an early beneficiary of the creative forces that formed and continue to drive Silicon Valley, has filed this lawsuit in a desperate effort to shut down lawful employment by a former employee.”
Indeed, there are several notable examples of companies that were started in a similar way, such as Intel, which began with a team of former Fairchild employees in 1968. Apple’s case would definitely hold more substance if it were similar to that between Google-owned Waymo and Uber, where an engineer stole trade secrets from the former in order to give an unfair advantage to the latter.
Apple believes “this case involves a worst-case scenario for an innovative company like Apple: a trusted senior director with years of experience, and years of access to Apple’s most valuable information, secretly starts a competing company leveraging the very technology the director was working on.”
Apple’s claims ignore that Nuvia was co-founded by Manu Gulati and John Bruno, both of which worked at several other tech giants like Broadcom, AMD, and Google before embarking on the new venture.
Nuvia fired back at the accusations by raising questions about how Apple was able to collect evidence to make its case.
The complaint has Apple admitting it monitors employees’ phone records and text messages. Apple claims it’s a privacy-centric company, and CEO Tim Cook has been calling for “rigorous” federal privacy regulation, but this lawsuit makes it look like the epitome of hypocrisy.
The two companies have a hearing scheduled for January 21, 2020. In the meantime, Apple can at least relish the fact that it managed to purchase Intel’s modem business for $1 billion, which the latter thinks is a rotten deal.