Batteries suit offers clues to Apple’s car ambitions
A maker of electric car batteries is suing Apple for poaching some of its best researchers, providing further evidence of the iPhone maker’s plans for a big push into the automotive market.In court filings this week, A123 Systems accused Apple of “systematically hiring away [its] high-tech PhD and engineering employees, thereby effectively shutting down various projects/programs” at the Massachusetts-based company.“They are doing so in an effort to support Apple’s apparent plans to establish a battery division that is similar if not identical to A123’s,” the lawsuit states.The company is also suing five former employees from its R&D lab who have joined Apple since June last year.The lawsuit follows news of Apple’s extensive hiring efforts from carmakers, first reported by the Financial Times last week. The creation of a top-secret automotive research lab led by Steve Zadesky, who led development of the iPod and iPhone, points to efforts that could lead to an Apple car, people familiar with the situation have said.Apple declined to comment on the lab and on the lawsuit.The case is not the first indication of Apple’s interest in electric batteries that could be used in cars. Last year, the iPhone maker held “preliminary discussions” with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who developed a new lithium battery, which experts hailed as a “killer app” for improving the range and lowering the price of electric vehicles.A123 describes itself as “vertically integrated, designing and manufacturing our own electrodes, cells, modules and complete battery systems”. Its cells and energy modules are mainly used in electric vehicles, after it sold its energy storage battery business to NEC, allowing it to focus on the “high-growth automotive market, specifically the micro-hybrid segment”, where three customers are already in production, and the “mass transit market”.Analysts have said A123’s technology improved reliability and safety, as well as creating more efficient and long-lasting batteries through improved power density.The company says Apple was “fully aware” of its employees’ non-disclosure, non-competition and non-solicitation agreements that prevented them from working on related technologies or rival companies for a year after leaving the company.