Apple Inc. has sued a former product designer for the company, claiming that he stole Apple trade secrets in order to help his new employer and that he also leaked secrets to a reporter.
The designer, Simon Lancaster, worked at Apple for more than ten years and helped design the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros. He holds several dozen patents for his work.
According to the complaint, Lancaster
used his seniority to gain access to internal meetings and documents outside the scope of his job’s responsibilities containing Apple’s trade secrets, and he provided these trade secrets to his outside media correspondent (“Correspondent”). The Correspondent then published the stolen trade secrets in articles, citing a “source” at Apple. On multiple occasions, Lancaster proposed that the Correspondent give benefits to Lancaster in exchange for Apple’s trade secrets. For example, Lancaster proposed that the Correspondent provide favorable coverage of a startup company in which Lancaster was an investor as a quid pro quo. Lancaster even recruited the Correspondent to serve as his personal investigator. In one instance, Lancaster requested that the Correspondent explore a rumor that could prove harmful to a company in which Lancaster had invested.
The identity of the “Correspondent” was not revealed in the lawsuit.
After Lancaster announced his resignation from Apple, Apple’s investigation of his devices provided by the company showed that he “communicated with the Correspondent regarding specific Apple trade secrets sought by the Correspondent and took specific steps to obtain additional Apple trade secrets,” according to the complaint.
The allegedly stolen trade secrets included “details of unreleased Apple hardware products, unannounced feature changes to existing hardware products, and future product announcements.”
After Lancaster’s resignation, he began working for Arris Composites, an Apple vendor.
The complaint alleges that Lancaster violated both the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act and the California Uniform Trade Secret Act. Apple also claims that Lancaster breached an employee confidentiality and intellectual property agreement.
Apple claims that it takes “all reasonable steps” to maintain the confidentiality of “Secret Apple Information” or “SAI”:
Apple has established trade secret policies for all its employees, maintains physical security in all its buildings, monitors computer access, and requires all employees to execute strict confidentiality agreements. Apple limits access to SAI to employees and contractors who have a demonstrable need to know such information and have signed confidentiality agreements with Apple.
Apple limits the access to multiple projects that were the subject of Lancaster’s misappropriations. No one may receive or access information about any of these projects, including SAI, without being “disclosed” on the project. Apple strictly controls who is disclosed and only permits individuals with a demonstrated business need to be disclosed. An employee who is not disclosed on one of these projects can only become disclosed if an Apple employee who is already disclosed “sponsors” the non-disclosed employee for disclosure. The sponsoring employee must submit a disclosure request on behalf of the applicant for disclosure. The disclosure request must include a business justification for the applicant’s disclosure. A separate Apple employee then reviews the disclosure request and approves or denies it.
Despite all these precautions, Lancaster was still allegedly able to get access to SAI outside his project area.
According to Apple, he attended a meeting about Apple’s “Project X” after he announced his resignation because he “knew that trade secret SAI regarding Project X would be disclosed in this meeting,” and the Correspondent had asked him for this information.
According to Appleinsider, “Project X” may have related to “Apple Glass” and Apple's augmented and virtual reality efforts, or possibly the AirPods Max.
Lancaster was allegedly told in advance not to attend the Project X meeting and was told during the meeting that he shouldn’t be there. He eventually left the meeting before it was over – but not before allegedly learning more trade secrets.
Apple is seeking an "injunction enjoining [Lancaster] from continuing to misappropriate Apple's trade secret information," as well as an order for Lancaster to pay damages, punitive damages, restitution, and attorneys' fees and costs.
The case is Apple Inc v Simon Lancaster, Case 5:21-cv-01.