Apple has filed a lawsuit against Rivos, alleging that the little-known startup “exploit[ed] Apple’s most valuable trade secrets to compete with Apple unlawfully and unfairly.”
According to the lawsuit, Rivos hired more than 40 former Apple employees within the space of a year, of whom at least two took with them large amounts of confidential information related to the company’s chip tech. This was in direct violation, Apple says, of an Intellectual Property Agreement which all staff are required to sign at the beginning of their employment and acknowledge when they leave.
“Starting in June 2021,” the lawsuit alleges, “Rivos began a coordinated campaign to target Apple employees with access to Apple proprietary and trade secret information about Apple’s SoC [system on a chip] designs. Apple promptly sent Rivos a letter informing Rivos of the confidentiality obligations of Apple’s former employees, but Rivos never responded.
“After accepting their offers from Rivos, some of these employees took gigabytes of sensitive SoC specifications and design files during their last days of employment with Apple.”
Rivos is a startup company founded last year that is, in its own words, in “stealth mode”. In other words it has avoided public attention rather than attracting it–until now.
Aside from Rivos, the suit names engineers Bhasi Kaithamana and Ricky Wen as “Individual Defendants”. It claims Kaithamana “amass[ed] a collection of Apple’s proprietary and trade secret SoC files until the day before he left Apple on August 16, 2021,” and that Wen “transferred approximately 390 gigabytes from his Apple-issued computer to a personal external hard drive.”
Apple suggests that Rivos and the poached staff took steps to cover their tracks. It says it has reason to believe Rivos instructed headhunted employees to download encrypted apps such as Signal before continuing discussions, and alleges that the engineers wiped devices and deleted file histories to conceal their activities.
Reuters reports that Apple is seeking a permanent court injunction on use of the trade secrets, and undisclosed monetary damages. At time of writing none of the affected parties have responded to Reuters’ requests for comment.