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Apple sued for poaching car battery talent

With rumors hot that Apple (AAPL) is getting into the electric vehicle market, there's a new heat source for the company. Electric battery maker A123 Systems, headquartered in Livonia, Mich., has sued five Apple employees and Apple itself in Massachusetts for allegedly joining the consumer electronics giant in violation of their contracts.

According to legal filings, A123's former venture investment Chief Technology Officer Mujeeb Ijaz left the company in June 2014 to join Apple. The suit alleges that Ijaz convinced four people who had worked for him, three of whom had PhDs, to join Apple's new large-scale battery division.

The specialties of the people who moved to Apple would have particular relevance for creating electric car batteries. A123 previously built automobile battery packs for the likes of Chevrolet (GM) and Chrysler (FCAU)

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The complaint claims that the employees had variously breached noncompetition, nonsolicitation, and nondisclosure agreements. A123 also asked the court to prevent "Apple from tortiously interfering with A123's rights under the Agreement by encouraging, participating in, or supporting" the breaches. The suit claims that the A123 projects the five were working on were effectively shut down for a lack of available talent to replace them. Reuters searched LinkedIn profiles and found at least six other people from A123 who now work at Apple.

The money involved is significant. In 2014, Ijaz had a base salary of $294,000, with a potential bonus of the same amount, an additional $5,000 per month stipend for living expenses and relocation expenses of $35,000, according to the complaint. One of the other engineers had a base salary of $220,000 and bonus that topped $110,000.

A war over car talent has been going on. Reuters' story says Apple has lured top engineers with car-design expertise from a number of companies, including more than 60 people from Tesla (TSLA), in a quest to develop an iCar. But then, Tesla has reportedly hired at least 150 people from Apple for expertise in software and user interface design.

According to the A123 complaint, Apple may also have tried to hire battery engineers from LG Chem, Samsung SDI, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Johnson Controls (JCI).

A123 said the loss of personnel inflicted a serious blow to the morale of remaining employees. The company has had a difficult time. In 2012, it filed for bankruptcy after receiving $132 million in federal money under a $2 billion stimulus program for developing electric cars.

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