Apple has been eagerly wooing engineering and design talent away from automobile manufacturers like Tesla and Mercedes-Benz, fueling rumors that the company plans to launch a car–perhaps even a driverless car.
Now one of those talent sources is firing back: A123 Systems, which makes lithium-ion batteries for cars and electric grids, filed suit against Apple earlier this month, alleging that the company had carried out “an aggressive campaign to poach employees of A123 and to otherwise raid A123’s business,” according to Law360. The battery maker, which was bought by Chinese owners in 2013 after declaring bankruptcy the year prior, says in court documents that the engineers joined Apple in order to build a “large scale battery division,” which would violate non-compete agreements in their contracts.
Trade secrets and talent are what fuel Silicon Valley product innovation–and are therefore often cause for contention. Indeed, as Fortune notes, Apple and competitors Google, Intel Corp, and Adobe Systems agreed last month to pay $415 million in order to settle an anti-trust lawsuit alleging that they had conspired to avoid poaching–an indication of just how cutthroat the fight for talent has become.
Poaching between tech and auto companies is a new phenomenon, but one that has quickly gained momentum. By Bloomberg’s count, Tesla has poached upwards of 150 Apple staffers. Apple, in turn, has offered $250,000 signing bonuses and 60% salary increases to Tesla employees. That may sound pricey, but Apple CEO Tim Cook has plenty of cash available.