Apple sues ex-employee for stealing trade secrets and giving them to a media contact

Apple sues ex-employee for stealing trade secrets and giving them to a media contact
Did you ever wonder how certain media correspondents are able to know months in advance about the specs and design of upcoming Apple hardware or software? Last May, Apple was reportedly "uptight" following a leak of iOS 14 that was supposedly taken from a developmental version of an iPhone 11 model. Another person paid a large sum of money to purchase the phone and allegedly was able to isolate iOS 14 which was then passed along to hackers, bloggers, and researchers. And the leak didn't consist of screenshots and parts of iOS 14; an entire version of the OS was revealed.

Apple sues former employee for stealing trade secrets and turning them over to a media correspondent

According to court documents published by Scribd (via AppleInsider), Apple is suing one Simon Lancaster. That name probably doesn't ring a bell, but Mr. Lancaster was the tech giant's former materials lead and as such, he certainly would have plenty of knowledge about upcoming devices. But it seems that some tipsters were getting information through a high stakes game of "Simon Says." In the court filing, Apple claims that "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. 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." The latter first contacted Lancaster on November, 29, 2018. Calls, emails, and messages between the pair continued throughout the rest of 2018 and during 2019.

The media outlet that the correspondent worked for published these trade secrets in various articles which cited a "source" at Apple. In return, Lancaster's new company was the subject of positive articles by the same publication. Lancaster sent the correspondent information and Apple devices and sometimes he handed them over in person. Even after leaving Apple in 2019 for a materials research and development company called Arris, he continued to pass along information from Apple since that company happens to be an Apple supplier. Simon's senior position at Arris allowed him to continue to access secret Apple information.

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Just before leaving Apple in October 2019, Lancaster allegedly turned over to his media contact documents labeled "Confidential" that the company called "Project X". Apple also accuses Lancaster of downloading a "substantial number" of confidential Apple documents to his personal computer on his last day at the company. The suit states that the trade secrets that Simon passed along to his media correspondent included "details of unreleased Apple hardware products, unannounced feature changes to existing hardware products, and future product announcements, all of which Apple guards closely."

Apple points out in court documents that the actions taken by the defendant hurts Apple in respect to its competitors. "With access to valuable Apple information, Apple's competitors can anticipate Apple's future course of action and attempt to degrade Apple's hard-won position as a company at the forefront of innovation." The company also goes on to say that "Maintaining this information as a trade secret is essential to Apple's ability to compete in the computer hardware and software markets. These fields are characterized by rapid technological advances and intense competition. If an Apple competitor were to obtain details about Apple's technology or related commercial information, that competitor could significantly harm Apple by using Apple's own technology, know-how and other details about these products to compete directly with Apple without having to spend the capital and/or time that Apple invested in developing such technologies."

The lawsuit will be heard by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in the San Jose Division.

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