Apple says Mountain View startup in ‘stealth mode’ poached engineers who took chip secrets
Apple has filed a lawsuit against a Mountain View startup called Rivos, which claims it poached employees who took chip design secrets from the Cupertino iPhone giant.
“Rivos continues to target Apple engineers, with more departures this month,” the lawsuit filed Friday alleged.
The startup, which currently describes itself on its website as being in “stealth mode,” has hired more than 40 former Apple employees in the past year, according to the lawsuit.
“Beginning in June 2021, Rivos launched a coordinated campaign to target Apple employees with access to Apple’s proprietary and commercial information about Apple’s (chip) designs,” the lawsuit filed in court said. of American District of San Jose.
Rivos instructed some of the workers to download and install encrypted communication apps before having further conversations with them, according to the suit.
Rivos did not immediately respond to email inquiries and voicemails seeking comment.
The majority of workers who left Apple for the startup were design engineers working on computer and phone chips, according to the suit.
Apple says its forensic analysis of the devices employees returned to it before leaving shows they took the information.
At issue is Apple’s M1 computer chip – designed in-house and released in late 2020, marking the company’s move away from Intel’s processing chips – and the “A15” chip used in the latest iPhones. Apple has spent billions of dollars developing the chips, he said in the lawsuit.
Rivos was founded a year ago to produce chips to compete with Apple, according to the lawsuit. Information collected by Apple employees hired by Rivos included “some of Apple’s most sensitive and valuable information” that “will provide a significant and unfair advantage to Rivos in the development of advanced chips,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit also names two former Apple employees who allegedly took secret data with them to Rivos. Bhasi Kaithamana worked at Apple in Austin, Texas for nearly 8 years as a chip design engineer, according to the lawsuit. Apple says Kaithamana accepted a job offer from Rivos between July 20 and August 9 last year, then asked Apple for a vacation day on August 10.
“While on his day off, Mr. Kaithamana created a new folder on his Apple computer and began copying Apple documents containing proprietary information and trade secrets,” the lawsuit alleged. Although Kaithamana resigned from Apple on August 13, “he worked to continue amassing a collection of Apple’s proprietary files and (chip) trade secrets until the day before he left Apple on August 16” , according to the lawsuit. The Kaithamana folder named “APPLE_WORK_DOCS” contained thousands of Apple documents, and he copied files to an external storage drive, according to Apple.
Kaithamana did not immediately respond to email inquiries and voicemail messages sent to Rivos for comment.
The other former Apple employee, Ricky Wen of San Jose, worked at Apple for nearly 14 years as a chip design engineer, according to the lawsuit. Rivos approached Wen about moving to Apple in June or July of last year and he accepted a job offer for a position similar to the one he had at Apple on July 23, according to the suit.
Within a week, Wen, also known as Wen Shih-Chieh, had transferred approximately 390 gigabytes of data – including trade secrets about past, current and unreleased chips – from his Apple-provided computer to a personal hard drive. , and Apple discovered that he had accessed more chip design secrets the day before he left Apple and just before a hard drive was attached to his company’s computer, according to the lawsuit. He also transferred hundreds of files to his personal Google Drive, including chip design schematics, and also kept trade secrets on his iCloud Drive after he left Apple, according to the lawsuit.
Wen did not immediately respond to email inquiries and voicemail messages sent to Rivos for comment.
Apple further claimed that “numerous” other former employees who had held jobs at Rivos similar to those they had at Apple downloaded and retained proprietary Apple documents after accepting job offers from the startup. . Several had connected external storage drives to Apple-issued computers in the days between their hiring by Rivos and their departure from Apple, according to the suit.
“Several of the employees deleted information or wiped their Apple devices entirely to try to cover their tracks,” the lawsuit said.
Rivos is currently announcing over 75 new employees, the vast majority in technology areas such as chip and software engineering, primarily in Mountain View but also in Austin, Bangalore and Cambridge, England.
Apple is seeking unspecified damages and seeking a court order that the allegedly misappropriated data be returned and that Rivos cease all access to or use of the data.
In March, federal prosecutors charged a former Apple employee with defrauding the company of more than $10 million by taking bribes, stealing equipment and embezzling money.
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