Apple claims that the stealth startup stole the engineers who took the chips' secrets

Apple claims that the stealth startup stole the engineers who took the chips’ secrets

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Apple has filed a lawsuit against a Mountain View, California startup called Refus claiming that robbed employees who took chip design secrets were on their way out of the iPhone giant Cupertino.

The lawsuit filed on Friday alleged that “Rivos continues to target Apple engineers, with more departures this month.”

The lawsuit alleged that the startup, which currently describes itself on its website as being in “stealth mode,” hired more than 40 former Apple employees last year.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in San Jose, alleges: “Beginning in June 2021, Rivos has initiated a coordinated campaign to target Apple employees who have access to Apple’s proprietary information and trade secrets about Apple designs (chips).”

The lawsuit alleges that Rivos directed some workers to download and install encrypted communications apps before further conversations with them.

Rivos did not immediately respond to requests via email and voicemails seeking comment.

According to the lawsuit, the majority of workers who left Apple’s startup were design engineers working on computer and phone chips.

Apple claims that its forensic analysis of devices returned to it by employees before they left shows they took the information.

The subject of contention is the Apple M1 computer chip — designed in-house and released in late 2020, signaling the company’s move away from Intel processing chips — and the “A15” chip used in the latest iPhones. In the lawsuit, it said Apple had committed billions of dollars to developing the chips.

Rivos was founded a year ago with the goal of producing chips to compete against Apple, the lawsuit alleges. The suit alleged that the information obtained by Apple employees hired by Rivos included “some of Apple’s most sensitive and valuable information” that would “provide a significant and unfair advantage to Rivos in developing … advanced chips”.

The lawsuit also includes the names of two former Apple employees who allegedly passed confidential data with them to Rivos. Bhasi Kaithamana worked at Apple in Austin, Texas, for about 8 years as an engineer managing chip design, according to the lawsuit. Apple claims that Kaithamana accepted a job offer from Rivos between July 20 and August 9 last year, then asked Apple for a day off on August 10.

“During his day off, Mr. Kaithamana created a new folder on his computer issued by Apple and began copying Apple documents containing proprietary information and trade secrets,” the suit alleged. Despite Kaithamana’s resignation from Apple on August 13, he “has worked to continue collecting a set of Apple’s proprietary (chip) files and trade secrets up to the day prior to his departure from Apple on August 16,” the lawsuit alleges. Apple claimed that the Kaithamana folder called “APPLE-WORK-DOCS” contained thousands of Apple documents, and copied the files onto an external storage drive.

Caithamana did not immediately respond to requests via email and voicemail messages sent to him at Refuss seeking comment.

According to the lawsuit, another former Apple employee, Ricky Wynn of San Jose, worked at Apple for about 14 years as a chip design engineer. Refus approached Wayne about moving to Apple in June or July last year, and accepted a job offer for a job similar to the one he had at Apple on July 23, the lawsuit alleges.

Within a week, Wen, aka Wen Shih-Chieh, transferred about 390 gigabytes of data — including trade secrets related to past, current, and unreleased chips — from his Apple-issued computer to a personal hard drive, and found Apple claims that the lawsuit claimed he gained access to more chip design secrets the day before he left Apple and before plugging a hard drive into his company’s released computer. The lawsuit alleged that he also transferred hundreds of files to his personal Google Drive, including his slide design diagrams, and also kept trade secrets on iCloud Drive after he left Apple.

Wen did not immediately respond to requests via email and voicemail messages sent to him at Rivos seeking comment.

Apple also alleged that “several” former employees who held jobs at Rivos similar to those they had at Apple downloaded and kept private Apple documents after accepting job offers from the startup. The lawsuit alleged that several of them connected external storage drives to Apple-issued computers in the days between their hiring by Rivos and their departure from Apple.

The lawsuit alleged that “many employees deleted information or completely erased their devices from Apple in an attempt to hide their traces.”

Rivos is currently announcing over 75 new employees, the vast majority of them in technology fields such as chips and software engineering, mostly in Mountain View but also in Austin, Bangalore and Cambridge, England.

Apple is seeking unspecified damages, a court order is required to return the allegedly embezzled data, and Rivos stops any access or use of the data.

In March, federal prosecutors charged a former Apple employee with defrauding the company of more than $10 million by taking kickbacks, stealing equipment, and transferring money.

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2022-05-04 16:55:38

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