Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Apple Suing Former A-series Chip Lead

Shaun Nichols (Hacker News):

In a complaint filed in the Santa Clara Superior Court, in California, USA, and seen by The Register, the Cupertino goliath claimed Gerard Williams, CEO of semiconductor upstart Nuvia, broke his Apple employment agreement while setting up his new enterprise.

Williams – who oversaw the design of Apple’s custom high-performance mobile Arm-compatible processors for nearly a decade – quit the iGiant in February to head up the newly founded Nuvia.

Apple’s lawsuit alleged Williams hid the fact he was preparing to leave Apple to start his own business while still working at Apple, and drew on his work in steering iPhone processor design to create his new company. Crucially, Tim Cook & Co’s lawyers claimed he tried to lure away staff from his former employer. All of this was, allegedly, in breach of his contract.

Ben Lovejoy:

Williams is fighting the lawsuit, arguing that the alleged ‘breach of contract’ claim is unenforceable and that Apple illegally monitored his text messages.

Presumably it wouldn’t be illegal if the recipients of his messages gave them to Apple. So it sounds like he’s alleging that Apple directly accessed them somehow.


Update (2020-01-24): Tim Hardwick:

However, Bloomberg today reports that Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Mark Pierce said the law doesn’t permit an employee “to plan and prepare to create a competitive enterprise prior to termination if the employee does so on their employer’s time and with the employer’s resources.”

The judge also dismissed a claim by Williams that Apple invaded his privacy by reviewing text messages he wrote to coworkers that were critical of the company.


The judge sided with Williams in dismissing Apple’s bid for punitive damages, saying the company has failed to show how Williams intentionally tried to harm Apple by being disloyal.

Update (2020-02-14): See also: Hacker News.

Update (2020-02-17): Juli Clover:

According to Bloomberg, Williams says that Apple is aiming to lure his staff away and is also preventing its own employees from leaving to pursue their own ventures. He claims that Apple’s lawsuit against him for breach of contract aims to “suffocate the creation of new technologies and solutions by a new business, and to diminish the freedom of entrepreneurs to seek out more fulfilling work.”

He goes on to accuse Apple of improperly deterring employees “from making even preliminary and legally protected preparations to form a new business - whether competitive or otherwise.”

Update (2020-02-18): joely:

Were the Nuvia/Apple decision to be applied retroactively, Shockley torpedoes Fairchild, hence there is no Intel, and Silicon Valley is in Richardson.

Update (2020-02-28): Shaun Nichols (via Matthew Kimball):

Incredibly, in the weeks before Apple took its ex-chief architect to court, the multi-billion-dollar behemoth privately told Nuvia to stop recruiting engineers from its ranks of techies, yet behind the scenes, the iPhone giant was trying to hire one of the startup’s top designers.

This is all according to paperwork [PDF] filed this week by Nuvia in a Santa Clara Superior Court, hitting back at Apple’s lawsuit brought against Williams in August 2019.

Attorneys for the upstart said that not only did its co-founder wait until after leaving Apple to start his new venture, but he did so after nearly a decade of trying to convince execs in Cupertino to take up the server microprocessor project themselves.

Update (2023-05-01): Joel Rosenblatt (via Hacker News):

Apple Inc. dropped its lawsuit against a former chip executive the company sued for allegedly poaching its employees for a startup.

Gerard Williams III left his job as lead chip architect at Apple in 2019 and co-founded Nuvia Inc. In response to Apple’s complaint, Williams filed his own claiming Apple tried to stop his firm from hiring its engineers while simultaneously recruiting staff from Nuvia.

Apple’s request to dismiss the case was filed this week in state court in San Jose, California. The filing doesn’t explain why the suit was dropped.


8 Comments RSS · Twitter

Am I the only one who thinks it's insane that it there is even a chance that what Williams did is illegal? He was hired by Apple because he's good at X. Now he's creating his own company to do X, and he's hiring people away from Apple. Clearly, he was doing well while at Apple even as he was preparing to start his own company, otherwise Apple would have fired him. So how is any of this in any way something Apple can sue him over?

I get that he probably signed a non-compete agreement, but these should themselves be illegal.

I read the complaint and he is not specifically saying Apple intercepted his texts, but that all parties to a text have to consent to disclosure, and he clearly didn’t. The most likely explanation is that one of the recipients shared it with Apple.

Apple’s allegations are clearly in contradiction with California’s strong prohibition on non-competes. I don’t know about non-solicitation. I would guess Apple will lose but it’s not about winning, it’s about harassment.

The counter-complaint says 9 talented employees left Apple. That does not bode well for future A series SOCs maintaining the blistering rate of progress they enjoyed so far.

“ iGiant”, really?

Sören Nils Kuklau

The counter-complaint says 9 talented employees left Apple. That does not bode well for future A series SOCs maintaining the blistering rate of progress they enjoyed so far.

Maybe, but maybe not.

Apple has thousands of chip-related hardware engineers alone: among others, they bought Anobit (200 employees), P.A. Semi (150), Intrinsity (100), portions of Dialog (300), and portions of Intel Mobile Communications (another 2,200 employees). Some will have left, and some will have joined, but either way, “9 talented employees” is not a big number.

@Lukas My understanding is that he was working on convincing coworkers to leave with him while still working at Apple. You can make a case for why that shouldn't be banned, but it is a completely different thing than trying to convince people to follow you after you've left.

@Lukas It’s weird because it doesn’t sound like they are suing him for stealing Apple trade secrets, just the poaching. Just because that was in the contract doesn’t mean it’s enforceable. This must be extremely common.

@Fazal I read somewhere that the prohibition on non-competes doesn't apply to management. But, yeah, worst case for Apple is that they sent a message.

If the recipients shared the texts, wouldn’t it be them, not Apple, at fault?

>My understanding is that he was working on convincing coworkers to leave
>with him while still working at Apple

Did he do it during work hours, when Apple paid him? If not, then I don't see the issue.

This reminds a bit of this suit filed by a company whose name looked a bit like "Apple, Inc":


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