Apple claims a little-known startup has stolen its trade secrets for the iPhone 13’s MacBook M1 chip and A15 mobile processor by poaching former employees.
Last Friday, Apple filed a lawsuit in US district court against a stealth startup called Rivos, which is allegedly developing its own competing chips. The trade secret theft occurred when employees transferred gigabytes of sensitive information about Apple’s chip designs during their final days of employment at the tech giant.
“Beginning in June 2021, Rivos began a coordinated campaign to target Apple employees with access to Apple proprietary and trade secret information about Apple SoC (system-on-chip) designs,” the lawsuit states.
Apple says employees lifted sensitive chip designs by using various USB thumb drives and the company’s AirDrop service. “Others saved voluminous presentations on existing and unreleased Apple SoCs, marked Apple Proprietary and Confidential, on their personal cloud storage drives,” the lawsuit adds. “One even did a full Time Machine backup of their entire Apple device to a personal external drive.”
In addition to Rivos, the lawsuit names two former Apple CPU design engineers, Wen Shih-Chieh and Bhasi Kaithamana, for allegedly carrying out part of the intellectual property theft. According to Cupertino, both employees signed confidentiality agreements that prohibited them from exposing Apple technology.
Rivos did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Not much is known about the startup, which Apple says was founded in May 2021. But one website says the company is based in Mountain View, Calif., and is hiring for “full-time and internship positions available at Austin, TX and Mountain View.” ,CA”.
Rivos CTO Belli Kuttanna is a former Intel intern. CEO Puneet Kumar previously worked at Google as the director of Chrome OS.
As for Apple, the company notes that it has spent billions of dollars and more than a decade developing its Arm-based chip designs for the MacBook and iPhone. “As necessary for their cutting-edge work, select Apple engineers have access to some of Apple’s best-kept proprietary and trade secrets,” the lawsuit says.
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Although the complaint only mentions two former employees, Apple says that more than 40 former employees have joined Rivos. “Most of these former Apple employees were design engineers developing Apple’s proprietary and trade secret SoC designs,” the lawsuit adds.
To facilitate the theft of trade secrets, Rivos allegedly used the encrypted Signal chat app to communicate with employees. “For example, after joining Rivos, a former Apple employee provided a then-Apple employee with a link to download Signal to communicate about Rivos with Rivos CTO Belli Kuttanna,” the lawsuit says. “Another Apple employee installed Signal in the weeks before leaving for Rivos and invited another employee who also left for Rivos to communicate on the platform.”
Apple is now demanding that the court force Rivos to pay damages and return all the information he allegedly stole from the company. The lawsuit also urges the judge to impose a permanent injunction against Rivos to prevent him from using Apple’s trade secrets.
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