Apple sues former designer over alleged stolen secrets

Apple is suing a former MacBook designer, alleging that he sold unreleased product details to a journalist in return for favorable coverage as he left the Cupertino firm for a startup. Simon Lancaster had been Advanced Materials and Prototyping lead at Apple until he resigned in November 2019, but a new lawsuit accuses him of copying trade secrets from other projects so that he could supply them to an "outside media correspondent" currently unnamed.

After leaving Apple, Lancaster joined Arris Composites as Head of Consumer Products, according to his LinkedIn profile. The company has developed a system called Additive Molding, in which composite structures can be manufactured with a mixture of continuously aligned fibers, electronics, and metallic components.

However before he left, Apple alleges, Lancaster used his position to gain access to information about other products and projects underway there. That information was shared with an unnamed journalist, along with details on roadmaps for new products and updates.

"Despite over a decade of employment at Apple, Lancaster abused his position and trust within the company to systematically disseminate Apple's sensitive trade secret information in an effort to obtain personal benefits," Apple's lawsuit, first reported by AppleInsider, claims. "He 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."

According to the lawsuit, Lancaster was first contacted by the media correspondent in late November, 2018. The two then communicated regularly through into 2019. In September 2019, it's alleged, they had begun meeting in person to exchange both information and physical documents. When Lancaster revealed he planned to leave Apple, the lawsuit says, the source asked him to get specific documents on a future product. The designer also reportedly attended a meeting on the product, despite it not being in his remit.

When he left Apple, Lancaster did not hand over the documents he had acquired. AppleInsider speculates, based on the timelines in Apple's lawsuit, that the product in question – which Apple refers to only as "Project X" – could either be the "Apple Glass" smart glasses or possibly the AirPods Max, the premium headphones the company announced in December 2020.

"Tens of thousands of Apple employees work tirelessly every day on new products, services and features in the hopes of delighting our customers and empowering them to change the world. Stealing ideas and confidential information undermines their efforts, hurting Apple and our customers," Apple said in a statement to The Verge. "We take very seriously this individual's deliberate theft of our trade secrets, violation of our ethics and our policies, all for personal gain. We will do all we can to protect the innovations we hold so dear."

Apple is alleging violation of Defense of Trade Secret Act, violation of California Uniform Trade Secret Act, and a breach of written contract. As well as requesting a trial by jury, it's asking the court to grant it injunctive relief, damages proven at trial, punitive damages, restitution, and costs of the lawsuit.

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