Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Apple Sues Nuvia’s CEO, a Former Employee (eetimes.com)
284 points by JoachimS on Dec 10, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 292 comments

I'm really surprised that this might be pursuable in California. At first, as Williams is a chip guy, I thought it might be in Texas where you can screw employees six ways from Sunday (up to and including successfully asserting IP ownership of the contents of someone's head, as the DSC case showed).

California is much more strict, and several of the assertions don't appear to hold up in my understanding of employment IP law (IANAL but have hired many people and have dealt with several close employee cases on both sides - company and employee -- over the years). The lines in the law are pretty clear and broad.

Most strikingly to me from the complaint is the fact that apple claims that he 1> used his design knowledge to found another company (jeez, people do this all the time) and 2> did so while working at apple (ditto).

The worst thing you can do is use Apple's property to start another company, which is a strict no-no. But apple doesn't claim he used an apple-issued phone (or computer) to set up NuVia, and if they thought that it would be a trump card they'd brandish right up front. Instead they have the weak "knowledge" grounds which is pretty vague.

Likewise they claim he solicited employees, but non solicitation clauses are likewise no longer enforceable in CA as of this year.

This smacks of intimidation: they don't care if they lose; they want others to know that if you leave apple to start a company or work for a competitor they'll sock you with an expensive and distracting legal battle. Which is pretty sad given that Apple was on the receiving (and losing) end of such a case a few years ago...relating chip design!

> Most strikingly to me from the complaint is the fact that apple claims that he 1> used his design knowledge to found another company (jeez, people do this all the time) and 2> did so while working at apple (ditto).

IANAL, but my impression having read through the actual file is that most of the claims are on the basis of this fellow allegedly having done all these things while employed at Apple. Apple alleges that he was routinely working on his own business, conducting phone calls related to that business, etc, while in the office, and that he was actively recruiting his coworkers before he had left the company.

I'm never a fan of big companies stomping on previous employees, but it sounds to me like the crux of the case is based around point (2). Had he quit the company and then founded his startup and poached his old coworkers - that would likely have been consistent with the law. But if he did indeed do these things _while still actively working there_ then his contract would have been in place at the time and therefore breachable.

The response (https://regmedia.co.uk/2019/12/09/applevwilliamscounter.pdf) claims that caselaw in California makes it clear that you can plan to start a new company, do some administrative work, etc. before leaving. You can't poach coworkers before you leave (if the contract is found valid, which they're attacking on other fronts), but you can certainly talk with people outside the company and say "Hey, I'm quitting in two weeks to found this company we both plan to join" etc.

>claims that caselaw in California makes it clear that you can plan to start a new company, do some administrative work, etc. before leaving.

Before leaving I assumed that is after he handed over his resignation?

Not sure if the administrative work or poaching is before or after that.

Non solicits are no longer enforceable in Californian

I am watching a friend in Texas go through this right now. He has been planning on leaving his current employer for some time, and his plan was to start a company that is only vaguely in the same space (basically going after an open area of a market adjacent to his current employer's space, not competing directly) but is now enmeshed in a battle over a very broad non-compete that he signed with his current employer which employment lawyers are telling him is enforceable (even if he relocates to the valley, which was the plan) for a period of two years despite basically being broad enough to prevent him working for companies vaguely related (along the lines of "does it involve networking?").

It's still in progress, but it's one of those things that immediately rules Texas out as an option. It's really amazing how bad it is out there [1].

[1] https://www.beckreedriden.com/50-state-noncompete-chart-2/

This is more than merely annoying. Our means of livelihood are held hostage to corporate interests.

Is there such a thing as software workers' lobby or something? The problem appears to be that, we developers negotiate individually at hiring time against corporations that are effectively acting collectively.

You're thinking of a union. There should be a software developers' union.

In most professions, this sort of lobbying is done by a workers union

This is a bit more than the article alleges. Reading over the lawsuit, as a high ranking employee, he had access to employee records including salary, bonuses and RSUs, just the type of information he could use to leverage recruits at Apple to come work for him.

Also as a high ranking employee he had access to not only Apple's proprietary information about chips, he also knew about corporate strategy and future business plans. His business plans included designing chips that he knew Apple was planning to use in the future and could undercut the pricing of other competitors.

This is a textbook example of where a non-compete can be enforced. The whole point of non-competes is to prevent a manager from leaving one business to start up a competitor. And yes, that includes soliciting employees, clients, etc...

He'd be fine if he was just an employee going from one company to another, but a manager taking a bunch of employees to start up a competitor is definitely a situation where a non-compete is enforceable.

Do you live in California, and/or can you comment on California's laws regarding non-compete clauses?


> Non-compete agreements are automatically void as a matter of law in California, except for a small set of specific situations expressly authorized by statute.[26]

> There are limited situations where a reasonable non-compete agreement may be valid in California.

> Where the owner of a business is selling the entire business, or is selling the goodwill in the business, the seller may be bound by a non-compete clause.[31]

> When there is a dissolution or disassociation of a partnership.[32]

> Where there is a dissolution of a limited liability company.[33]

This happens literally all the time, everywhere. Those employees are independent individuals who are capable of deciding whether they want to go or stay. Why should that be enforceable by a non-compete?

Management jobs are different. You're paid a premium to, essentially, be above employees; both in terms of freedom and pay, but also responsibility and loyalty.

With regards competition, what server chips is Apple producing exactly?

Nuvia can claim they're targeting only servers, but ARM chips are something Apple uses plenty of...

He started the company using Apple tech while working at Apple with the intent of taking that tech and selling it back to them. This isn't the same as a non-compete -- this is an intent to compete with Apple while still at Apple. A non-compete means you can't compete after you've left the company -- but taking Apple IP he created at Apple, to start another company with the intent of selling them a derivative of that IP -- that's definitely not ethical and a pretty clear breach of the employee contract. This has nothing to do with a non-compete. Non-compete means you can't work for a competitor -- that non-competes aren't enforceable doesn't preclude the enforcability of using Apple IP. Additionally, the non-disclosure agreements are enforceable and the tech he is using was most certainly covered by multiple NDAs, independent of a non-compete.

Also, the enforcement of an employee non-solicitation clause, which prohibits former employees from reaching out to former coworkers to try to hire them at their new workplace, is also not the issue here -- non-solicitation clauses prevent former employees from poaching current employees -- true, those aren't enforceable under California law, but what is enforceable is that this solicitation happened while the guy was still working at Apple, potentially using Apple resources or facilities. Non-competes and non-solicitations aren't valid in California, however those don't apply while the person is still working for the company in question. The basis of the suit isn't that he started his own company -- it's that he started his own company while working at Apple with the intent to compete with Apple, using Apple-owned IP and Apple employees.

If Apple had a helicopter project and an engineer was working on it at Apple, he couldn't take the plans for the helicopter, recruit co-workers then start a helicopter company using those plans. He could leave Apple, then develop his own plans for a helicopter, then hire Apple employees -- that would be legal under California law, but what would be a breach of contract would be using the specific IP developed while at Apple.

The other question isn't about "enforceable" contracts in so much as the fact that the guy signed a contract when he was hired at Apple. Enforceable or not, he agreed to the employment terms and probably happily accepted Apple stock and other compensation in exchange for his work on developing IP for Apple -- IP that he is taking to his new venture specifically to sell it back to Apple. Regardless of the enforceability of the contract, it's pretty sleazy.

Pretty much, I expect California to dismiss unless he has a contract where he waived his rights.

Well that's the thing, you can't waive your rights. That's the whole point of these clauses being unenforceable. This is a really disappointing move on Apple's part. The guy isn't pursuing something competing with any Apple product, or even anything trying to sell back to Apple. He's just going off and doing something else.

You can't waive your rights, but in most jurisdictions managers have less rights than employees (which is made up by the fact they generally have more freedom and better compensation). So if he ran a division of Apple, he'd definitely be classed as a manager and a non-compete would likely be enforceable.

I take no position on the enforceability or the wisdom of the case. That said…

It seems completely reasonable to me that there will be ARM-based desktops and laptops from Apple in the next five years and that they plan to offer them in hardware or software configurations that are suited to server work; macOS Server is still a thing.

I three-quarters expected, when the new Mac Pro was announced a year or two ago, that it would be the first ARM-based desktop Mac. I was wrong, but I think I was wrong on timing, not on whether it would eventually happen. Apple cares a lot about having control of every key technology that makes up its offerings.

> macOS Server is still a thing

It is? With no server hardware except for maybe a rack-mounted Mac Pro ( which doesn't really strike me as server grade hardware)[0] and most of the actual server services gutted[1]?

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mac_Pro#Mac_Pro_Server & https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mac_Mini#Mac_mini_Server

[1] https://9to5mac.com/2018/01/24/major-changes-macos-server/

I have seen many macos server installations on Mac mini.

Yeah this is almost certainly about chips intended for future Macs.

> The guy isn't pursuing something competing with any Apple product, or even anything trying to sell back to Apple.

That isn't true.

"Williams boasted about starting a new company with technology that he was working on at Apple, that he believed Apple ‘needed’ and that he believed Apple would have no choice but to purchase.”"

> He's just going off and doing something else.

Also not true. He started the company to sell tech he developed at Apple, back to Apple.

I'm not sure why you are stating these things like they are facts. These are still just allegations that Apple has put forth.

> He started the company to sell tech he developed at Apple, back to Apple.

If this is so clear cut, Apple will have a lot easier time in court. On the contrary, this is exactly what Apple needs to prove in this case.

>I'm not sure why you are stating these things like they are facts. These are still just allegations that Apple has put forth.

True, but even before these allegation it is also widely believe to be the case on HN [1].

I am not surprised not only because designing and selling chips is hard, but also because Apple has a history of acqui-hire startup with previous employees. Tim Cook mention they make nearly close to 1 acquisition per week, since the value is so small ( compare to Apple's cash holding ) they dont even need to disclose it.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21547850

They're alleging breach of duty of loyalty and breach of contract. He was setting up and soliciting Apple employees for his new business while employed at Apple. If he left and tried to poach his former co-workers that would have been fine.

And he did sign an Intellectual Property Agreement, which is included in the filing on page 15.


Both of those activities are permissible under CA law, and the second activity (recruiting) is explicitly not illegal as of 2019...

And Apple is not alleging violations of their IP. They are alleging that he learned non-Apple-IP things during his time at Apple and is now using that knowledge at his new company.

As far as I know there are no non-solicitation or non-compete agreements involved in this case at all. It all hinges on the fact that he was employed by Apple and owed them his undivided loyalty.

Then I hope the case is thrown out. Companies have no loyalty to us. Why should we have loyalty to the company?

Ah yes, because they have money and power. Sounds familiar.

I think I get the argument – "how could society function if every employee were allowed to actively sabotage the company they worked for?" – I just don't buy it. Most people have no interest in doing such things. The law of large numbers seems to guarantee it won't be a big problem in practice. And I'm more in the "Let employees have civil liberties" camp than "Let companies protect themselves from any conceivable harm." And besides, we have a clear remedy for employees who sabotage their companies: fire them.

From a cursory reading, it sounds like this person used his technical expertise to go start a startup, and tried to recruit some of his peers to leave their cushy bigco job and go help him. Y'know who else did that? Shockley Semiconductor.

> Y'know who else did that? Shockley Semiconductor.

Steve Jobs himself also recruited some folks from Apple when he left to found Next.

After he left. He didn't decide to start Next while at Apple using Apple resources with the intent to sell it back to Apple. That's a big difference.


"Over the previous six months, Jobs had kept in contact with some of the senior staff in the Macintosh division, even after Gassée took control. Five of these staffers agreed to become cofounders of the new company with Jobs. Chief among these were Bud Tribble, Susan Barnes, and Dan’l Lewin." [1]

"After several months of being sidelined, Jobs resigned from Apple on September 13, 1985. He told the board he was leaving to set up a new computer company, and that he would be taking several Apple employees from the SuperMicro division with him." [2]

He also intended on licensing the tech to Apple, according to those sources.

[1] https://lowendmac.com/2013/next-years-steve-jobs-before-triu...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NeXT

Well I read this as more of an agreement to your OP rather than disagree.

He told the board he was leaving to set up a new computer company, and that he would be taking several Apple employees from the SuperMicro division with him


He also intended on licensing the tech to Apple, according to those sources.

i.e The board were both acknowledged and have a common interest.

It all hinges on the fact that he was employed by Apple and owed them his undivided loyalty.

Employees do not owe their employers their undivided loyalty.

The lowest-level employees don't owe their employer anything when their shift ends. They're free to work for a competitor for the next 8 hours if they choose.

Salaried employees generally don't owe their employer anything once they leave the office and stop work for the day...though only in a few states like CA are workers granted explicit protections for their extracurricular ventures.

Only executives might owe undivided loyalty, and even then that is a provision of the employment contract that must be explicitly negotiated and paid for by the employer.

>The lowest-level employees don't owe their employer anything when their shift ends. They're free to work for a competitor for the next 8 hours if they choose.

May be in CA, but many part of the world this is not true.

>Only executives might owe undivided loyalty, and even then that is a provision of the employment contract that must be explicitly negotiated and paid for by the employer.

Which is exactly what is happening. He was only two or three level below Tim Cook.

can you expand on the former point about recruiting?

Non-solicit clauses in contracts are commonplace and I've never met someone in CA who doesn't think they have legitimacy. If he was dumb enough to directly solicit instead of making himself available for people to reach out to, if they chose to, that's on him. But I'd like to know if this is an invalid folk-belief.

...except for everyone in CA who reads the news.


Edit: above was paywalled, and I didn't realize I was trial-viewing it. Think this is free for all:


They were only questionably enforceable before too, since they still amounted to a contract restriction limiting someone's employment opportunities (in this case, the person being recruited).

While CA does codify non-competes (and now non-solicits) are void, general interpretation was that any restrictive contract clause wasn't going to fly in court except under very specific circumstances. CA takes a very dim view of restricting job mobility.

Ethically, totally slack if he recruited while still employed, of course, and if he literally did it at work I suspect he'll run into a "using company resources (time, building, hipchat channel, etc)" issue, which is one of the things that severely weakens a defense that whatever you do yourself, you still own.

No idea how or if that applies at a high-level action like starting a company, but if he had any technical contribution I could definitely see it coming up.

It's an invalid folk belief perpetuated by employers.

In CA, soliciting your fellow employees is perfectly permissible. As of 2019, this is a blanket rule for all employees, including executives, because courts have determined that non-solicit clauses violates multiple CA labor laws (including the prohibition on non-competes).

However, executives may be subject to non-compete clauses in their employment contract. Executives, as highly-compensated employees, are exempt from CA prohibitions on non-compete clauses. Solicitation activity might violate the non-compete if the executive is going into a new business that directly competes with the actual activities of the old employer, but as a practical matter this can't really occur since the executive couldn't take the new job until after the non-compete period ends.

> the second activity (recruiting) is explicitly not illegal as of 2019

> while employed at Apple

That's the key. You can solicit after you aren't employed by the company. But that isn't the case here.

No, you're misunderstanding the law.

In CA it's always been legal to solicit employees after you left your old job. Recent court cases simply clarified that this has always been the case, and that the same law invalidating non-competes applies to non-solicits.

And the 2019 case explicitly says that a non-solicit applying during the term of employment was illegal as a matter of CA law.

I wonder if someone has published a State-by-State comparison of employment/contract law relevant to tech workers. If found this document, which deals with non-compete and non-poaching:


I'd be nice to see comparisons that might include intellectual property issues.

The other permutation would be the difference in legal treatment with and without an explicit contract. In other words, what do the laws say in each State if someone just hires you and you do not sign any contracts at all vs. the legality of various signed agreements (for example, non-compete).

I haven't seen a tech employee contract in the Bay Area where you are not asked to waive your rights. The question is, is it enforceable?

No. Companies have to include a document informing you that "in California, portions of the previous pages we just asked you to sign might be unenforceable."

Ugh. So the next step is to make legislate against flagrantly inserting specious waivers of rights in employment contracts to prevent this sort of thing.

Possible these laws have a specific line about not being waiveable via contract, a la our renter protection laws. I seem to remember that might be the case for the non-compete, and I'd be surprised if the non-solicit voiding law wasn't the same.

However, I think the explicit codification also prevents that. AFAIK, once something is in state code as a requirement/prohibited/void action you can't personally waive that.

Where are you seeing this?

All the contracts I've seen in California have a disclosure sheet of the law, specifically non-solicitation and IP ownership (on company time/premises with company resources) and don't ask you to waive rights.

I need to go home to check the wording on the two contracts I quit over but they essentially said any idea I have while employed belongs to the company. Though it was subtle. They said my ideas belong to me if I come up with them on my own, unless they relate in any way to a software business, and neither company was willing to put any definition/boundary on what their software business was limited to. Which essentially puts a limit on you developing ideas related to your trade. (The California Law was written to stop companies preventing professionals from being able to practice their trade).

My initial expansive statement is based on this personal experience and on discussions with recruitment agents and senior developer friends who have been in the area longer than me, they all told me it is the norm in the industry. Though I admit most of my professional career has been spent on Wall Street and the City in London, so I don't know, maybe I'm misguided?

The complaint is here: https://regmedia.co.uk/2019/12/10/apple_v_gerard_williams.pd...

Paragraph 24 is interesting. Apple’s breach of contract claim is based on Williams’ alleged creation of a competing business in violation of his Intellectual Property Agreement with Apple. Apple appears to concede that Nuvia is targeted to servers and Apple doesn’t make servers. So they have a hook in there that they’ve considered developing or customizing servers. (As a factual matter, I’m not sure anybody would consider customizing servers for internal use to be in competition with selling chips for commercial servers, but that seems to be Apple’s story.)

It’s not clear what Apple’s beef is. Nuvia’s founder clearly did some organizational work while he was at Apple. Maybe that’s enough to technically breach the agreement. (Or maybe not. Without purporting to know anything about California employment law,[1] Nuvia’s motion to dismiss seems pretty robust in its reliance on California law and public policy against non-competes and restraints on employment, as well as preemption of the contract action by trade secrets law.) But what I’m curious about is what Apple thinks the damages are from Nuvia starting a business in a sector (servers) Apple hasn’t competed in for more than a decade?

It’s also curious Apple didn’t bring a trade secrets claim. The architecture of Cyclone, etc., is famously under wraps compared to AMD and Intel’s designs. Apple has gotten amazing performance out of these chips, but nobody is entirely sure how they’re doing it.

[1] Obligatory disclaimer: Not barred in California, not an employment lawyer, etc. For entertainment purposes only.

There is a pretty clear conflict of interest here. The guy was building his company and recruiting Apple employees to it while he was getting paid by Apple. I'm not entirely certain what California's non-compete laws say, I thought they only applied after you left an employer (or in situations where you leave to join another company), not while you are still getting paid, have access to confidential information; recruiting internally; and are using Apple's corporate resources to further your own personal business.

They are pretty robust - I've never heard of anyone successfully being sued for recruiting to go work for a new company, regardless of whether you were still employed. It might be grounds for dismissal - but doesn't appear to break any laws.

I would be super interested if anybody has any counterexample - even a single one would be interesting.

I suspect any legal remedy here is going to be based on proving this guy was working on his business while employed at Apple. While the no-compete has no bite, breach of contract might. And if he's taken trade secrets or confidential information and gets caught, he's toast.

This isn't exactly the same as the Levandowski case, but it sure rhymes.


Levandowski was a different ballgame entirely; him leaving to "found" Otto only for it to be quickly purchased by Uber for an obscene amount of money is something he organized ahead of time with Kalanick. There was also ample forensic evidence that he took large amounts of proprietary data from Waymo.

In the absence of blatant coordination with Kalanick, I think Levandowski would have walked.

When the Levandowski deal broke, there was similarly slim details. It'll be curious to see when the legal case unfolds how Apple is going to build their case. I'd assume they have some kind of legal basis for pursuing this.

Anything done on the employee's own time, using their own equipment, and not relying on IP owned by the company is owned by the employee, and non-competes do not apply. There's a standard form outlining this attached to every CA employment agreement.

You missed the part where you can't work on something that is in the same field.

Has this actually held up? My understanding is that what specific and specialized areas of work on off-time is considered company IP have to be enumerated, and must depend upon availability of unusual proprietary information.

I haven't found any cases in my (admittedly brief) search that actually rule on this, but there's a pretty clear pattern in CA jurisprudence that suggests that a broad application of "related work" is unlikely to be looked upon positively. To me, it's pretty clear that use of trade secrets would be about the only thing that courts are _likely_ to agree upon as out of bounds for personal work.

From the sounds of it, they are going after him for non-compete, but breach of contract.

I'm not sure I'd read too much into the "for servers" part.

Everyone expects Apple to switch to ARM chips sooner or later for their laptops and desktops. Their A CPUs would probably already be fast enough for entry level Macbooks, but they still need some higher wattage versions for big Macbooks and desktops. I'm also not sure how good Apples chips are with regard to virtualisation features.

These are all things that would be useful for servers, but Apple needs them for their high end desktops as well. (And Apple won't announce in a court filing that they are working on ARM CPUs for the Mac)

> I'm also not sure how good Apples chips are with regard to virtualisation features.

Rumor has it that new chips will ship with EL2 implemented.

Apple’s beef is talent loss, and the lawyers are doing their job by throwing everything they can at him. Remember what they did last time their competitors were hiring their people away.

> It’s also curious Apple didn’t bring a trade secrets claim. The architecture of Cyclone, etc., is famously under wraps compared to AMD and Intel’s designs. Apple has gotten amazing performance out of these chips, but nobody is entirely sure how they’re doing it.

I’m genuinely curious what you think apples strategy is here. If their performance is so much better than intel, wouldn’t it reason that they are worried he could slip Intel proprietary knowledge under the guise of “servers” that they then reuse for other things... but if that’s true then why not, ask you ask, bring a trade secrets claim? I’m curious about how you see the legal strategy - is a trade secret claim harder to prove?

Per the server claim, I wonder if the rack mounted Mac Pro would count?

From Apple's website:

"For customers who want to rack mount their Mac Pro in edit bays or machine rooms, an optimized version for rack deployment will be available this fall." [0]

[0] - https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2019/06/apple-unveils-powerfu...

> Apple appears to concede that Nuvia is targeted to servers and Apple doesn’t make servers. So they have a hook in there that they’ve considered developing or customizing servers.

Is there a legal definition of ‘server’? Genuinely curious. I ask because today Apple announced the Mac Pro rack-mount edition, which seems oriented to datacenter deployments.


>(As a factual matter, I’m not sure anybody would consider customizing servers for internal use to be in competition with selling chips for commercial servers, but that seems to be Apple’s story.)

>it’s not clear what Apple’s beef is.

Consider this scenario, Apple has a Server / Mac Pro / High Power ARM Chip Design for their own use. Their employees quit and brought this design to a new company and sell it on open market.

Would this be clear where Apple's beef is?

( Hypothetically Speaking only )

>Apple appears to concede that Nuvia is targeted to servers and Apple doesn’t make servers

While I don't disagree with anything you are saying, I will note that Apple is kinda back in the server game, given that Mac OS server is still a thing, and now (or soon) there is a rack mounted Mac offering again...


> Apple appears to concede that Nuvia is targeted to servers and Apple doesn’t make servers

Aww, I liked my Xserve.

If people remember, a year ago, Apple was hiring a ton of Linux developers.

The rumour back then was that they want to port either OS X or iOS to Linux. Now I believe they just wanted to run Linux on those server chips.

I think there is a misunderstanding of what 'iOS', 'OS X' and 'Linux' are.... you're saying they wanted to port their operating system to another operating system....?

I meant to port OSX/IOS from Darwin kernel to Linux kernel.

But what about dTrace and the 20+ years of work on the Darwin kernel?

You seriously believe they'll chuck that in the bin?

I think yes. Apple is by far not as "religious" with that as its public image suggests.

Judging by how keen they are to never adopt anything ever written by anyone else, I think it is precisely the opposite. They have a "not invented here" syndrome that causes them to keep hold of everything they create to be in full control of it. It makes sense commercially. Examples: a. Swift language - they could have just used C# but decided to create Swift to force yet another generation of developers to learn the language only used by Apple (same as Objective C) b. Their chips on their phones / iPads c. The soldered-on SSDs on their laptops instead of user-replaceable items d. APFS - their "new" filesystem is still lightyears behind NTFS in terms of features - why didn't they adopt NTFS instead???

Heck, even sharing files from your Mac to your Apple TV needs Apple's blessing before it'll AirPlay to it (via iTunes, not sure on whatever they're using now).

They will never ever ever ever adopt the Linux kernel.

To the Apple PR folks reading this thread now : Unless there are facts of the case that relate to actual IP theft, you've just done more damage to your hiring pipeline than you can imagine.

Take steps internally to fix this. It isn't a bad look to step down. In fact, you'll improve your standing if you consider how the engineering community views this.

This action is hostile and will greatly impact your hiring and retention of talent.

I love Apple's products as a consumer, but as a tech worker, their entire history has been a dumpster fire.

People venerate Jobs for being they stereotypical drive-people-to-death toxic boss, but he was also the "take credit for everyone else's ideas" toxic boss.

They are famous for destroying anyone who leaks. It's admirable that they don't leak, but their methods for cracking down on leaks are draconian, to say the least. This includes illegally spying on employees.

They participated in the cartel that engaged in wage-fixing and limiting employee mobility. They were sued by employees for denying breaks that were mandated by law.

And on and on.

It is unsurprising that they are harsh to former employees. When you look at their stance relative to their current employees, it would be surprising if they took a "live and let live" approach to those who leave.

People say that using Apple products is a cult, and liking their products is "drinking the kool-aid.". I say that working for Apple is joining an abusive, tyrannical cult, and if you don't know where the expression "drinking the kool-aid" came from, you ought to find out before working there.

Which other employees did Apple destroy for leaking and other stuff?

(Serious question) I tried Googling it but all the results are either about this article (Google is obsessed with newness) or about employees suing Apple, not the other way around.

The engineer who was fired because his daughter filmed a video of the iPhone X [1] comes to mind, but I'm not sure that qualifies as "destroying".

[1] https://www.engadget.com/2017/10/28/apple-fires-employee-ove...

They didn't just participate in the cartel. Steve Jobs created it.

This will damage their hiring pipeline, when a wage suppression scheme that actually effected far more employees didn't? They are alleging recruiting actions while still employed at apple, and that he purposely inserted intermediaries in the recruiting to keep the employee "clean." If your plan is to use an outsider to recruit your direct reports to your new company, well, you'll have to be a little sneakier. Or just quit first.

Apple may be in the wrong, but I can't imagine the average potential hire giving a shit at this point.

I doubt it's going to affect their hiring and retention at all. This isn't like the guy left Apple and started a company. He started a company, ran it on Apple's dime while it was getting started, then wandered the hallways recruiting people for it.

It's pretty easy to see the huge conflicts of interest here.

> ran it on Apple's dime

I'm sorry, but when I go home at night and choose to spend my remaining hours awake on my own project, that's 100% mine. I bought and paid for it. Instead of spending time with friends or loved ones, playing video games, going out and having fun, I labored.

> wandered the hallways recruiting people for it

This makes it sound like you can't have professional relationships or friends at work. Or that you wouldn't want to work with those people after joining another company.

> I'm sorry, but when I go home at night and choose to spend my remaining hours awake on my own project, that's 100% mine.

The problem comes in when you blur the lines between your personal project and what you are paid by Apple to do. At what point are you working on your thing versus Apple's and who is paying you to do it?

The big question is what he was doing while purportedly on the clock. Was he using Apple provided hardware, software, and time to further his own personal ends?

> This makes it sound like you can't have professional relationships or friends at work.

Ethics are hard, lines are blurry. It's best to avoid the blurry bits and keep to the places where you are clearly in the right.

Maintaining relationships while working is fine. Recruiting for a side business on the other hand is a clear conflict of interest and crosses an ethical threshold IMO.

Calling your existing friends up after you quit and offering them jobs is fine.

I have no idea what this guy did, but it sounds like he was definitely in the grey areas of ethics and from the sounds of it the law.

My employer is allowed to recruit for my position while I'm still working in it, and kick me to the curb only after they've found a replacement they like (whether they're cheaper, or whatever else). Besides being a dickish thing to do, this causes me to incur a real opportunity cost corresponding to the time I could have spent searching for new employment.

It's unethical, arguably, but most companies show again and again that they're willing to behave unethically toward their employees, so I'm not sure why I should feel bad for them given that employment is a two-way business relationship. The pervasive focus on employees being "bad employees" and simultaneous tacit acceptance of corporate dickishness is an insidious and toxic double standard that should not be tolerated.

You are similarly "allowed" to search for another job while working for a company, which is 1:1 comparable to your idea of the company looking for your replacement while you are still there.

What the company isn't doing is billing you for the time they spend doing it, or having you spend your free time doing it while you are at home.

What someone does in their own free time with their own resources is their business. What they do while they are at work, getting paid is "company" business and should be treated as such.

These aren't at all comparable unless the employee can use the employer's time, money, and resources to search for a better job.

Beyond this, I find it ridiculous that you're comparing humans with thoughts and feelings and limited time on this earth to wholly inanimate corporations. We should err on the side of giving humans more freedom and liberty.

> These aren't at all comparable unless the employee can use the employer's time, money, and resources to search for a better job.

That's exactly what Apple this case is about, an employee who is being accused of using his employer's time, money, and resources to not just search for a better job, but to create a multi-million dollar company.

I am paid a salary, and it's understood by my employer and I that some business days I may work less than 8 hours and some business days I may work more, some days I may arrive later and leave later, and some earlier, and additionally I may work on weekends and holidays. So, my employer doesn't really have a leg to stand on if they say that I used time I sold to them to pursue my own interests, because there is no explicit agreement that any specific amount (or "non-fungible unit") of my time is theirs. Neither can they say I used their equipment or resources, if I didn't.

What basis remains upon which they can claim that I used "their" time and/or their resources and/or their equipment to conduct personal business?

Not this case, but i'm 100% sure they failed to hire a very qualified individual in the past due to their draconian non-competes (or at least their "we own everything you do" clauses).

particularly for anyone in software you have to heavily weight how good apple will look on your resume vs just submitting code to random open source projects.

As a hiring manager I definitely prioritize people who have code I can view vs people who's code has been locked in somewhere with vague claims of what they added.

This is not illegal in the state of California.

California laws protect these actions. A "conflict of interest" is not illegal in California, lol.

Apple could fire him, sure, but that doesnt mean he broke any laws.

I don’t think I agree with your premise that Apple should allow employees to moonlight and poach their talent.

Why not? What an employee does in their time is their business. Furthermore it takes two to tango, it's a free market.

If an Apple employee is solicited and accepts, then they're finding the opportunity or terms more agreeable than whatever Apple currently provides, why should an employee be denied the opportunity?

I trade my time, skills and knowledge for money. I don't owe my employer anything other than the above. If I receive a better offer, why shouldn't I take it?

Apple's pissing on what made it and the Valley great.

And has been for the last few years. I'd be surprised if they back off willingly.

I have been waiting for a case like this. The boilerplate SV Software Engineer contract says that the employer basically owns your whole intellectual output. In practice it's extremely common for people to leave FAANG companies and start companies that are basically more agile "forks" of whatever they were working on before. I have seen this so many times at Google. Someone makes a cool internal tool/service, leaves, makes it into a SaaS company.

A famous example is Foursquare. Google bought Dodgeball, which was the original product. The founders got paid then left Google and ... started the same company again but called it Foursquare!

My assumption is these companies don't sue because they can't afford the negative impact on hiring. If you thought Apple would own your mind forever you'd never work there in the first place.

Your assumption is mostly correct, but there is another BIG reason they don't sue.

Companies don't have the infrastructure in place to track former employees and see what they are doing just for the purpose of filling law suits. So unless they create a Unicorn and become famous, they are pretty safe no matter what.

I once heard a VC Pitch from a bunch of patent trolls who wanted to create a company that you could subscribe to called "IP Insurance", that would then track your former employees and sue them when they violated their contracts automatically. With the added bonus that they would somehow buy the litigation contract from the original company so negative PR would be all on the Insurance company.

"Companies don't have the infrastructure in place to track former employees and see what they are doing just for the purpose of filling law suits."

Couldn't Apple could get into your cloud and see all your data if you use their products?

Not if it's end-to-end encrypted.

> If you thought Apple would own your mind forever you'd never work there in the first place.

Only a very small fraction of Apple's employees will ever attempt to be entrepreneurs. It's no threat to the extreme majority of all employees in Silicon Valley. Outsized total compensation and great benefits is all most tech workers in SV are after, entirely reasonably so.

I agree that it will scare off many employees that are heavily inclined toward starting their own thing. It's an interesting question as to whether companies like Apple are better off or worse off in that scenario. People that are particularly entrepreneur-minded often don't make for great employees (I'm in that group).

California is different than many states in the USA. In many places a non-compete agreement can stop you from going to a competing company. That doesn't just affect entrepreneurs, it affects all employees. The end result is employees can't change jobs as easily and wages are depressed. Non-solicitation agreements have a similar effect.

I don't think I'll ever root for companies enforcing non-compete or non-solicitation agreements. But, if Apple can prove that this guy was working/soliciting for his new company on Apple's time or while using Apple equipment then they may have a case, but it should be a limited case.

Where do you think the outsized total compensation came from? Where do you think the cultural entity known as the Silicon Valley came from. Where do you think the phrase "traitorous eight" came from?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traitorous_eight

> People that are particularly entrepreneur-minded often don't make for great employees (I'm in that group).

No boss, I can't meet that deadline, I'm too smart.

Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News? You've done it a lot already, and we're trying for something better than that here.


Please do not deny my right to free speech.

There's no right to speech on HN, but there is a duty: to follow the site guidelines.


I’d bet my house that the founder just pissed off some big Apple guy, probably took some talent with him when he left, so now they’re throwing the book at him.

Sounds like you're right:

>Apple is additionally charging Williams with luring away other Apple engineers, also allegedly in breach of his contract.

I am guessing this is another one of those Scott Forstall Problem.

"The best people are the ones that understand content. They are a pain in the butt to manage but you put up with it because they are so good at content."

Only insider would know, but watching it from the outside it seems there are quite a bit of power grab across Apple.


Please don't do denunciatory rants on HN. You may not owe Apple better, but you owe this community better if you're posting to it.


It's a valid remark on how companies do tend to treat their workers as little more than livestock. While it is denunciatory, the subject deserves denunciation.

Many things deserve denunciation—so many that if HN is to host denunciatory rhetoric about all of them, that will soon become the theme of the site. We don't want that, because this site already has a theme: intellectual curiosity, which can't coexist with denunciation.


I disagree both with the premise that denuncing realities of the industry that go unnoticed in a relevant context prevents intellectual curiosity (I believe that as long as it isn't a bandwagon, it actually triggers interesting discussion), and I disagree with the slippery slope argument you present, as it seems quite unfounded.

This is pretty standard in employment agreements. I don't know of a company in the Valley without a 1yr no-poaching clause.

Not enforceable though in 2019.

Is that true? I was definitely under strict orders from my employer to not solicit anyone from my prior employer throughout 2019. I would be surprised if they didn't realize it's not enforceable...

Silicon Valley companies do many things that aren't legal...and with respect to labor law, many things that are explicitly illegal, like anti-poaching arrangements, union-busting, ignoring health and safety rules, ignoring overtime rules...

Apple specifically was one of the parties to the anti-poaching arrangements.

Sure, but that's not what we're talking about here. There was even a case where we hired someone directly from my prior employer to be on my team but it was very clear that I wouldn't be involved to prevent any kind of non-solicit issues. We were also, as an organization, sued by another company, where our CRO was prior, for non-solicit issues when a large number of their sales staff joined ours. So I'm not sure this is relevant. Everything I've read suggests non-solicits are enforceable, including in CA.

Non-solicits are not enforceable in CA as a matter of law.

In 2019, CA courts ruled that this also applied even while the soliciting employee is still employed at their old job.

Of course, a competitor can and will sue if they feel like it financially benefits them to do so, such as by interfering in your company's business procedures or discouraging other employees from leaving. This doesn't mean that what they're doing is lawful or that they won't face legal penalties for their actions.

Google got rid of theirs this year.

You're right! Seems like it may have in some part been in connection to litigation surrounding the company level no-poaching pact they were in prior.


A periodic reminder that Apple was one of the founding partners in the conspiracy (with Google and others) to cheat employees out of billions of dollars of wages due to illegal anti-poaching agreements.

I’m sure it’s also about setting a precedent to current and future employees regarding leaving and starting new companies.

What VC wants to spend their early money on lawsuits, even if you’ll (eventually) win?

It's also sending a message to prospective employees to not take a job with Apple.

Eh, Apple has always been a big risk as an employee. They don't pay very well and they take secrecy (and the accompanying legal paperwork) very seriously.

None of this is new; Apple has always been like this (even in the Jobs 1.0 days).

They do pay well; they've been trying to recruit my gf for the past few years. She just doesn't want the commute from Palo Alto.

For me (even if they would offer me a job, which they probably would not) the second worst would be the extreme secrecy and the worst would be the absolute prohibition of outside projects, even open source unless it were explicitly my job.

Apple pays at or below market rate for most technical positions (which can still be pretty high for certain roles). The "Steve Jobs way" has always been to find people motivated by something other than money, so it feels like an intentional choice.

Compared to google, fb, netflix, etc for software engineers they don’t pay as well unless your a special interest.

the worst would be the absolute prohibition of outside projects, even open source unless it were explicitly my job.

Wait, what? If you work at Apple, you are absolutely prohibited from having outside projects, even open source projects that are explicitly not a part of your job?

That's so surprising to me that it feels like it can't possibly be true. The best hackers all have some kind of open source projects, and Apple feels very supportive of open source work. How could they attract the best talent unless they were fine with people building open source projects?

They are very concerned about secrecy. It's just part of the culture; you know it when you sign on.

Apple is quite supportive of Open Source in an official capacity. I would actually say that the best talent almost certainly does not work on Open Source projects in their spare time (though quite a few talented people do get paid to work on Open Source projects). The "best talent" tends to have other hobbies outside of coding -- well-rounded individuals make better team members, especially when working with non-technical team members. A lot of young engineers don't appreciate this until they're older.

>>Apple has always been like this (even in the Jobs 1.0 days).

I remember reading in the Walter Isaacson's biography. Jobs would purposefully underpay or deny bonuses to top employees, especially top contributors to the products.

This kind of a behaviour comes puts up a giant red flag. Do only as much as what it takes to not get fired.

This has always confused me. I don't understand why anyone works for Apple (or Amazon for that matter). If you're already selling your soul to big tech why not just go to Facebook or whatever and get paid more?

Apple is generally less immoral than Facebook and Amazon. Facebook is generally less immoral than Amazon, too, but Amazon has better PR.

As immoral as Facebook is, it isn't even close to Apple. It was Apple who gave control of Chinese users' iCloud keys to the Chinese government (and then used weasel words to pretend they didn't in news interviews). It was Apple who set up no-poaching agreements that suppressed tech workers' wages for years. Relative to that, Facebook's transgressions seem almost trivial.

And caused the prices of eBooks to rise.


? Apple is beholden to China more than the other two.

Amazon has some of the worst working conditions and highest injury rates in the country for domestic workers that aren't engineers.

https://gizmodo.com/exclusive-amazons-own-numbers-reveal-sta... (independent)

https://www.revealnews.org/article/behind-the-smiles/ (joint article with The Atlantic)

I'm not stating that Apple is good (just look at Foxconn suicide rates as proof that it's an evil company), but it's generally speaking the lesser of three evils here.

> (just look at Foxconn suicide rates as proof that it's an evil company)

What are you counting, and how are you counting it?

Why do you think the rate of death at Foxconn is any different to any other large manufacturing company?

Take a look at them, these are just the ones that happened inside of the factories.


Again, why do you think a death by suicide inside the factory is unusual?

Suicide is a leading cause of death in every single country in the world (albeit it doesn't always appear to be so because of the way it's counted) and so when you have a very large employer you're going to see many deaths in their workforce.

Every death by suicide is a tragedy for that person and their loved ones, but I'm not seeing anything that says Foxconn have unusually large rates of deaths.

This isn't meant to excuse any bad behavior, but how many "domestic workers that aren't engineers" do they employ versus the rest of FAANG, and in what roles? If a huge portion of your business consists of plucking things off of shelves in warehouses then yes, of course you're going to have a higher rate of injury than the guy at Google whose job it is to wheel in new kegs of kombucha every week.

In the entire country, not compared to just tech companies. Read the articles.

There are many other jobs other than plucking orders off a shelf. If I had to guess (which I am), it would be about 50% of the work here. Another large percentage of work is done on the ship dock, where there's more heavy lifting (but nothing over 50 lbs), and much more walking. I prefer this type of job because of how it's safer for me. I know how to lift heavy packages without getting a back strain. I don't know how to bend and squat multiple times in an hour even when I'm picking without injuring my back and/or knees. I have a knee problem from back when I was a runner in HS and college, and repetitive motions like that make it difficult for me to walk on. I still have yet to get accommodations for this, but I have been able to evade having to pick for several months, and I should be losing my permissions for that shortly. Needless to say, I don't think Amazon is the best employer, but I do work with people in authority who care. So it's worthwhile while it lasts.

We've banned this account as well as several others because they only post comments to defend Amazon against criticisms, and all the comments are more or less the same. That's not what this site is for.

You're welcome to participate on Hacker News if you want to submit stories and post comments about topics that gratify your intellectual curiosity. That is, you'd be welcome to participate as a true community member. But single-purpose accounts aren't allowed here, and certainly not single-purpose accounts for corporate agendas.


Most employees will not become entrepreneurs so I doubt it will factor much into the decision whether or not to work for Apple. Almost all employers in the US have that kind of non-compete clause and they are enforced more often than you would think, this is just making headlines because it involves a hot startup and corporate giant.

In California non-compete agreements are severely restricted and much less enforceable, and that's one major reason Silicon Valley is in California and not elsewhere, as so many semiconductor companies were started by people jumping ship. That's one reason why, for anyone who wants to get some experience in a major company but has dreams of eventually starting their own company, California may be a better place to be despite the high cost of living.

Counterpoint: the anti-poaching agreements between Apple, Google, and others [1] shows that other than better non-compete statutes, SV isn’t any better than any other place, especially if the largest employers want to collude to prevent hiring one another’s employees.

It’s unhelpful to fall into the trap of thinking the Valley is any better than any other place.

[1]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Tech_Employee_Antitrust...

An illegal agreement that ended in 2009 is a poor proof of your point.

It is unreasonable to believe that they stopped simply because of that minor slap on the wrist. I’m sure they’re just much more careful now; tens of billions of dollars are on the line.

Team leaders at the big companies now feel far more freedom to try to recruit people from big competitors, thanks in part to the poaching agreement being found to be illegal. So it did matter. You're launching a big project, you don't have the needed expertise in house, and a guy/gal you know who works for OtherBigFAANG would be a good fit. You call them. Back when the poaching agreement was in effect, HR would tell you you can't hire them. Now they won't, in fact, they can't.

It’s more a statement that Apple owns its employees.

Non-compete clauses are null and void in California. That doesn't mean they're not in the contracts and that doesn't mean that something non-compete-ish clause-ish isn't in there.

Still I think this is a bad look for Apple.

Not null and void. But they are limited in scope.

Which is silly... the right approach is to let employees leave and start their own companies, take their own risks, fail or succeed on their own. And if they succeed, you buy them and integrate them back into the fold. If they fail, you didn't take the risk of failure on your own.

Provided they didn't take insider knowledge and intellectual property with them, of course.

This is Cisco's model: two employees (or groups of employees) leave to develop some new tech, raising money and building staff in the process. In the end Cisco buys the one that gets traction and if the other fails the people can go back to Cisco.

It is a way of providing engineering bonuses without messing up the internal politics.

I have a neighbor who did this twice. Apparently that's not that common: I mentioned that in a random conversation once and the person I was talking to said "Oh, you live near XXX?"

Is this Sipura/Linksys story? Or there are more cases?

There are plenty -- it's called a "spin in". Unique to Cisco, though.

> Provided they didn't take insider knowledge and intellectual property with them, of course.

And that is exactly what Apple's legal filing claims...

Nope: every decent technical employee acquires insider knowledge, and companies don't have the right to enslave people because of that knowledge. The laws governing this differ from state to state, and California in particular gives employees more protection from restrictive contracts than other states.

Apparently they're not making a trade secrets theft claim, which seems a little unusual for a case like this.

If you put it this way, it sounds sensible. But as soon as VC money is involved it gets a bit fishy.

Say you assembled a great team of specialists. It cost you a lot of effort, time and money to hire all these really great people. Then someone comes along with a wad of cash and convinces a bunch of those people to all quit and work on a secret project. After they come out of stealth mode, it becomes clear they worked on the same thing as they did at Apple, only now Apple has to pay $250 million dollar to get the results of the work of the team that they had put a lot of effort into recruiting in the first place...

It turns out that you don’t actually own a team in the property rights sense: you didn’t assemble it very well if they all decided to leave.

This is the market pricing the work. If someone else came along with a wad of cash and hired them, you weren’t paying them enough.

See the thing is you didn't do the work, they did. If you can't get anyone to make the tech yourself then that's just how it is. If they decide to make the tech and it is worth 250 million then pay up, or live without it, or try to make an equivalent in house. You don't own your team, you will do whatever is in your best interest and so will they.

Doesn't that carry a risk for Apple? I thought CA had some legislation specifically to deter lawsuits like this.

The early part of the complaint covers this a bit. He did work on the new startup while still employed at Apple, including poaching engineers. He was also responsible to not do anything that could "compete with or take any actions inimical to the interests of Apple while employed by Apple"

That tied to some claims that he's utilizing some Apple IP. Looks like he may have been doing a lot of the work on his startup based on his work at Apple - and potentially sandbagging his work there and stashing the goods under his new umbrella - (my interpretation apparently he said he was developing technology that Apple needs)

There's enough here that seems outside of the protections that CA affords.

Are side projects really that big of a deal? This is tech. Everybody has side projects. Can you imagine if a herman miller furniture designer was sued for making chairs on the side?

> Can you imagine if a herman miller furniture designer was sued for making chairs on the side?

If the contract they signed with Herman Miller expressly forbade them from doing this, yes, I can totally imagine that. The problem isn't the side project, per se -- it's starting a side project that is in direct or indirect competition with your employer. If you work in the Alexa group at Amazon, for instance, they're probably not going to care about a "side project" of selling sparkly pony dolls on Etsy, but if your "side project" is developing a new voice assistant, you're going to have a problem.

Yes, generally if you work full time, your employer contractually owns any IP you produce unless you disclose that you're involved in outside projects.

They might own what you do on company time with company resources, but full-time employment does not entail your employer owning the intellectual property you produce on your time with your own resources.

But my understanding is your employment contract can pre-assign that property to your employer, and that contract will be enforceable in (e.g.) California if the IP relates "at the time of conception or reduction to practice of the invention to the employer's business, or actual or demonstrably anticipated research or development of the employer".


Totally depends on your employment contract. Plenty of large places and even smaller places take a “we own everything you create” clause.

Now, now enforceable it is often depends, but the Oculus case is just one major example of how a company can assert ownership of IP created outside of work hours.

> Totally depends on your employment contract.

Right, I was addressing the OP who said that full time employment means that your employer owns the intellectual property you create on your own time, which isn't the case by default.

And for large companies, even if they don't "own everything you create" they often have their fingers in enough pies for anything you could come up with to be construed as being a conflict of interest.

If my side project is something that benefits from (in this case, perhaps even 'consists of') the intellectual property I'm creating for my current employer, and is also something that I intend to turn into a new business ... that seems quite a lot different from "I do some open source contributions" or "I make some furniture for home".

"I do some open source contributions" is not easy at all at Apple.

"I make some furniture from home" is a completely different analogy from the one i just made. Either you didn't get it or that's willful contextomy.

Every company started by someone uses experience they've generated at a previous job. These contracts effectively make anyone starting a company a breach of contract. And just because it's in a contract, doesn't mean it can't be thrown out by a judge if the terms are too unreasonable. These terms are too unreasonable.

Also the concept of "intellectual property" is so misunderstood and abused by the legal system. Originally it was meant to prevent people from writing books that tail on the success of another person's work, like trying to get paid for harry potter fan fiction. It doesnt mean that after being a fiction writer for one publisher the publisher subsequently owns all fictional writing you do for the rest of your life. Prince should've had to change his name to Artist just so he could write music again. Maybe Nuvia's CEO needs to needs to change his name too just so he can continue making microchips.

> Every company started by someone uses experience they've generated at a previous job.

No-one (at least I don't think anyone) is suggesting that knowledge, experience and skills belong to your employer.

But if I'm a video game developer, and I invent a new shading technique for video game graphics while I'm employed at BigGameCo (whether at home or at work), and I have signed a contract that assigns ownership of my inventions to BigGameCo, then that contract is generally enforceable (again, according to my non-lawyer understanding) and that invention belongs to BigGameCo.

I'm not trying to say the line is always going to be clear but skills/experience/knowledge is fine; work-product is not. Bring your sales know-how; not your Rolodex. Bring your software architecture chops; not design documentation; etc.

>No-one (at least I don't think anyone) is suggesting that knowledge, experience and skills belong to your employer.

That's the whole argument. There's literally no other argument. There is no separation between "previous body of work" and "experience, skills, or knowledge." I think you missed the, "Prince had to change his name to Artist formerly known as prince just so he could continue making music," analogy. That's exactly what's going on here.

>But if I'm a video game developer, and I invent a new shading technique for video game graphics while I'm employed at BigGameCo (whether at home or at work)...

If you're a pioneer in shaders, it's because you've spent years of time and effort trying to understand the problems associated with this one specialized field. You are going to continue being a pioneer in shaders long after you leave your current employer, because that's where you are the most competitive, because that's where all of your knowledge, experience and skills are. To change fields now would be career suicide. You would no longer be a specialist. Your years of knowledge and experience in shaders would lose all value if you decided to dig ditches/whatever alt line of work you go into, and that's what these contracts are forcing you to do: brave a job market where you have no advantage for your time spent at your previous company.

Under these types of contracts, you're not allowed to move forward with your career trajectory after leaving a company. You would be building off your previous work that you did with them, and you're approaching problems with the same solutions you already came up with. That means your old employer owns the rights to all of your subsequent work. Same thing happens to musicians. Since every song they write is an iteration of their previous body of work, if musicians try to leave their record label and can be sued for the rights to every subsequent song they write. Prince had this happen and changed his name to "Artist formerly known as prince." to skirt around the contract. Ridiculous solution to a ridiculous problem. At the time I just thought Prince was being crazy. Apparently not.

I'm also not talking about what types of contracts have been enforced in the past, obviously these companies keep trying to use these contracts because there is precedent, but there's precedent for fucking everything in this country and I could write a historiography of court-ordered fuckery if need be. What im trying to say is that these types of contracts have been thrown out in the past for being unreasonable, and should all be thrown out in the future. This was not the intended spirit of any law allowing people to own "intellectual property."

I don't know anyone who has a startup as a side project. This isn't as common as you think it is.

There's a lot of grey area between "startup" and "side project". I do know quite a few people who operate niche cloud services that pull in a few thousand dollars a month. Certainly not enough to build a company around, but the $ per hour works out pretty well. I could see how someone might want to quit their job to work on turning their side project into a startup.

That said, nobody I know over 30 who works in tech does their "side projects" in tech anymore. We've all moved on to kids or hobbies that allow us to escape the tech world like music or painting.

I think side projects over 30 will be more common pretty soon. Income inequality is getting worse and worse, other industry incomes are falling like crazy and lots of people are career changing to tech.

I’ve had contractor coworkers get those sort of provisions in the employment contracts striked but they had to hire lawyers to examine them and this is in California.

Yes, yes I can.

I’m lucky my employer has a really fair moonlighting policy (basically, I can’t use company equipment for my outside projects and I can’t get paid to talk about stuff I explicitly learned at work), but many large tech companies assign ownership to any code you write, whether it’s a side project or not.

"Took some talent with him when he left" is a clear violation of his contract.

So that's not a "just". That's something he deserves to be sued and heavily penalized for.

The lawsuit claims that non-solicits are unenforceable in California. See page 7 (PDF page 16) of https://regmedia.co.uk/2019/12/09/applevwilliamscounter.pdf

Actually, if you read carefully, it claims that non-solicitation agreements are unenforceable if the solicitation took place AFTER the termination of employment. But in this case Apple is saying it took place before, as well.

My reading of page 5 ("APPLE CANNOT STATE A CLAIM FOR BREACH OF CONTRACT BECAUSE THE UNDERLYING CONTRACTUAL PROVISION IS ILLEGAL") is that they're claiming that the entire non-solicitation agreement is unenforceable because the contract claims to prevent solicitation after the employee leaves, and so even though a contract that only prevented solicitation during employment would be permissible, this particular contract doesn't do that and therefore the whole thing is void and there's no valid non-solicitation agreement left. "Section 3.0, however, cannot form the basis of a claim for relief, as it is illegal and thus void and unenforceable."

Am I reading that right?

Yes, that's the position being taken. The invalid non-solicit argument seems to be the next domino to fall in CA employment law, as it looks like at least 3 cases in 2019 have found them unenforceable. This is the strongest language I've seen in an objection to one though, so it will be interesting to see if it's ruled on.

I think its just the part that is not justiciable (ie enforceable) that is void.

If Bill Shockley sued Robert Noyce for taking the traitorous 8 with him to found Fairchild Semi, none of us would be here commenting on a YC powered forum about a computer company started in a Garage in Santa Clara suing people for doing the same thing.

> That's something he deserves to be sued and heavily penalized for.

Sued for making job offers to your ex colleagues ? Even in the US that wouldn't fly.

No, sued for actively recruiting them while still employed by the same company. He had a contractual duty of obligation to work in the company's best interest and instead spent dozens and dozens of hours on the phone with his co-founders and recruiting coworkers to leave with him.

I have no idea who is right or wrong legally here. That said, the complaint is clearly that he made job offers to current colleagues. Maybe that's untrue, I don't know. But it's much different than having already left the company imho.

Depends on the state. I think that flies in Texas of you've signed a non-solicit for instance.

This is a standard employment contract term. I don't agree with it, but in most of the US, if you signed a non-solicit, you cannot legally make a job offer to an ex-colleague. Even in CA, the state that most heavily policies anti-competitive behavior like this, they have not been entirely voided (although it looks like the law is headed that direction).

Restricting the movement of labour does not in any way benefit the individual. Presumably, as a member of this profession you must realise that competition improves compensation.

You are not owned by your employers. Anything else is like a turkey voting for christmas

Perhaps instead of companies using the legal arm of the government to punish employees for seeking new jobs, we should make all non-solicits illegal and force companies to compete if they want employees to stay so badly.

You can be sued if engineers decide to quit and come work for you?

That is your framing of the situation. Apple's framing is that he was plotting this while still working at Apple, and figuring out how to steal technology and take other engineers with him to start his own gig. His contract apparently says that he couldn't do that.

So yes. You can be sued for that. Obviously. Which is why he's getting sued.

You can be sued for anything, of course. A contract has to be enforceable for it to make sense to be sued for it, and California law has a lot of worker protections that make certain common contract provisions unenforceable/illegal. Nuvia's framing is that all of the things he did were previously held in court to be permissible under California law.

IANAL but my reading of the situation would be that apple has a better claim on his IP than the tactic they're taking. All they'd have to do is prove that the idea was formulated at apple and they never signed it over to him. My understanding of Cali law (albeit likely very flawed) is that this suit as written is not supported by law.

Even if the idea that is formulated is for a business that the employer isn't in, and left a decade ago (servers for data centers)? Or if the main idea is "I want to do my next chip design for someone else"? Doubtful.

Doesn't matter IIRC, most employers requires their employees to sign an agreement saying that anything they come up with during the term of their employment is owned by the employer unless the employer gives up rights explicitly. This is to prevent someone from getting "The next big thing" then running away to start a company for it even though their employer was interested.

You can be sued for anything.


Whether or not the litigant prevails depends on specific language of agreements, their enforcability, and the specific circumstances around the departures.

Did the engineer decide to quit on their own or were they persuaded by someone who otherwise agreed not to poach?

Agreements not to poach are illegal. In fact, Apple itself was hit by a suit by the US Department of Justice over that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Tech_Employee_Antitrust_L...

The suit you are referencing was an agreement between major tech companies not to poach/recruit from each other.

The issue discussed here is an employee agreement that prohibits former employees from poaching current employees.

The text that Apple signed prohibited them from: "attempting to enter into, entering into, maintaining or enforcing any agreement with any other person to in any way refrain from, requesting that any person in any way refrain from, or pressuring any person in any way to refrain from soliciting, cold calling, recruiting, or otherwise competing for employees of the other person".

I don't see how it doesn't fit this case.

And this is more egregious (in Apple's perception, anyway): current employees poaching current employees.

Apple doesn't own people. If employees want to change employer, they are free to do so. Apple of course knows this, so it tries to terrorize current and future employees into submission.

"Terrorize"? I mean, they signed the agreements. I'm kinda failing to see the terror, here.

The situation is that many, many employers make signing one of these a de facto requirement for employments, and they are widely known / believed to be unenforceable, but you still default to being on the hook for your own legal defense if a company that has otherwise idle full-time lawyers on their payroll and someone high enough decides they don't like that you and a bunch of other people quit. They weather that fight better then you and your startup will.

I worked at an SaaS offering for market research surveys that was threatened with a lawsuit because we hired a software engineer who used to work phones in a call center that specialized in polling people. He signed the non-compete contract, obviously, but the point was to discourage him and other people from quitting, or their potential employers from hiring them.

Have you read one of these agreements? They're vague and defer all the important details to litigation.

Binding arbitration unless you opt out.

Yes, terrorize.

The idea is to make illegal lawsuits against people who broke no laws, so as to set an example for other people who are thinking about quiting.

This is the same company that screwed our profession royally for years by colluding with other big companies not to hire each others employees.

Yep, Apple, along with Google, Adobe, Intel, eBay, Intuit, Pixar and Lucasfilm[1] all colluded with each other not to hire each other's employees, effectively depressing workers' market value.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Tech_Employee_Antitrust_L...

Think off all the people that would have moved for life and live, but were imprisoned in their cars for that commute.

The agreement came courtesy of Steve Jobs. If you're an engineer, remember that next time you're about to think that Jobs was a great guy.

By threatening to sue companies that didn't agree to this illegal setup. https://www.cnn.com/2013/01/23/tech/innovation/steve-jobs-pa...


The lawsuit alleges that he started a new company (while employed with Apple) with technology that he was working on (iPhone and iPad processors), and luring away other Apple engineers.

Nuvia, the company of which he's the CEO, has attracted $53 million in venture funding.

This is why you don’t work on that side project while still working at your main job. Every large company I’ve worked at has been very clear during orientation: they will assert ownership of anything you do while employed, on or off the clock, using your own equipment or theirs. It’s not worth the risk to moonlight bootstrapping your startup. Not saying it’s right but saying that it is. These companies have a lot of lawyers.

How do they have the right to own what you make off the clock on your own equipment?? Do they own you outside of your contractually agreed-upon hours?

Section 2870 of the California Labor Code[1]:

> Any provision in an employment agreement which provides that an employee shall assign, or offer to assign, any of his or her rights in an invention to his or her employer shall not apply to an invention that the employee developed entirely on his or her own time without using the employer’s equipment, supplies, facilities, or trade secret information except for those inventions that either:

> (1) Relate at the time of conception or reduction to practice of the invention to the employer’s business, or actual or demonstrably anticipated research or development of the employer; or

> (2) Result from any work performed by the employee for the employer.

> (b) To the extent a provision in an employment agreement purports to require an employee to assign an invention otherwise excluded from being required to be assigned under subdivision

> (a), the provision is against the public policy of this state and is unenforceable.

Any such agreement must also state that it does not apply to an invention that qualifies under Section 2870[2].

[1] https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySectio...

[2] http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection....

To everyone who replied to this question: no need to speculate on this, the IPA is Exhibit A https://regmedia.co.uk/2019/12/10/apple_v_gerard_williams.pd...

(William's lawyers claim the IPA is void: https://regmedia.co.uk/2019/12/09/applevwilliamscounter.pdf)

Thanks for pointing it out. I think a lot of people are downvoting this because they don’t want to believe it’s true. I worked there in the past and can tell you this is 100% truly part of tour employment agreement. They even forbid you from having a personal Apple Developer account while you work there. Apple is very protective of anything that they even perceive might be their IP.

In addition (and this is slightly offtopic to the lawsuit itself, apologies), aside from a few high profile open source projects like LLVM that help drive their business, the default is that Apple employees are not allowed to contribute to open source projects. This is why you see so few Apple contributors in open source projects. This is in sharp contrast to, say, Google, which actively encourages open source work in a number of ways. Making it relevant to the original topic, that's a fairly common path for people to bring technology out of the company. I'd personally argue that it's ethical, ethical, and of benefit to society. Whether companies think that such lenient approaches to open source benefit them apparently vary pretty widely from company to company.

In CA you have a right to whatever you create your own time. In Texas (IIRC) and some other states your employer can claim a right to anything you create while under their employ. It's a state by state thing.

Note the claim here seems to be that he utilized Apple time and resources to work on his new project.

> In CA you have a right to whatever you create your own time.

Only if it is unrelated to your company’s current and potential future business[1]. Big tech companies like Apple can argue that almost anything related to electronics or software could be a future business for them.

I’m not rich enough to risk finding out. If a big tech company decided to sue me, I’d be bankrupt from legal fees in a few months, whether I was right or wrong.

EDIT 1: thanks antoncohen for posting the actual law’s wording: “actual or demonstrably anticipated research or development of the employer”

Yes that’s right I was unfortunately speaking in generalities and in this case the specifics are crucial.

Obviously it varies by employment region, but my contract doesn't say "You work 40 hours a week". It says "We own everything you create while you're employed by us".

This is common but not universal. The agreement I have with google, by contrast, gives them a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive right to use anything I create while I work here. This is not the same as owning those things.

One contract that was handed to me from an established company even included a clause that any IP created by even up to 5 (FIVE!) years AFTER you're no longer employed belongs to the company. Vaguely defined as anythikng related to the 'core business' (technology). Ridiculous and thankfully at least under CA laws completely unenforceable bully tactics.

California has laws explicitly prohibiting the latter. If you work on your own time with your own equipment, then the company doesn't own the IP. Technically, you're supposed inform your employer of the work, but I have no idea how that works in practice.

That's what I don't understand:

> they will assert ownership of anything you do while employed, on or off the clock, using your own equipment or theirs

How can this be legal (or enforcable)? I can see that the work done on the clock, with company equipment, is what they paid for and own. What you do on your own time and equipment though, they haven't paid (and doubt would be willing to pay) to own all of your time and work.

But I've heard it's common - fortunately I've never been in that situation, and would not consider signing such an unfair contract.

But if you're paid salary then how do you dictate what time is your time and what time is the company's? Especially when people sometimes work from home, check emails after they leave work, etc?

IANAL, so I can't say what allows this sort of thing, but it is very common for companies to assert exactly this.

I don't know if it's been tested in court or not.

You're in a contract with them that specifies this as a clause. So yes, they kinda do (unfortunately).

And that's wholly unethical. Companies that do this are happy for employees to remain wage slaves and nothing more. They don't truly admire success unless it feeds the bottom line.

Unless Apple can prove this person stole something (cf. Waymo), fuck them. I hope every engineer they have that is working on their own side hustle leaves and that anyone considering the company for employment looks elsewhere.

Are these unethical contracts made (or at min. shielded/supported) by same folks who once had mini / side hustle of own and now gone big? Or is it a different populace altogether?

(edit: might just turn out to be a rhetoric)

Not if the contract provision is illegal. And many of these contracts are indeed illegal in the state of California.

Unless it has literally nothing to do with your job, like you are a web dev and design a new type of hand saw after hours, some places will claim that your side project was made with knowledge gained at work, therefore it belongs to them.

It does in Anglo-Saxon law

The Master and Servant acts (from way back when) basically a lot of US and UK labour law descends from pre American revolution law and precedent.

yes, if I have an idea while on the toilet at night, then that idea is the property of my company. (according to my contract)

Would that apply to all the folks who sit on the board of other companies while working at another?

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

The kinds of higher-level job-holders who might be sitting on other boards would likely have employment agreements that are negotiated to specifically carve out those exceptions.

Usually it's mutually agreed upon when there's a conflict. For example Disney CEO Bob Iger was on Apple's board up until Apple announced they were creating a streaming service. Disney was planning a streaming service that would compete with Apple TV+. Iger announced his resignation from Apple's board on September 10.

Doesn't the name side-project imply that it's something you work alongside your main job?

>Nuvia, the company of which he's the CEO, has attracted $53 million in venture funding.

Do VCs do any due diligence anymore? Or do they simply not care, deal with it later?

"Silicon Valley" is going to be the next generation's "Wall Street".

It's possible that they did due diligence and determined that Nuvia would likely prevail in court, no?

That seems incredibly unlikely, since the cost of litigation for a small company against a company like Apple is huge. It's going to distract engineers, it's going to damage the company's reputation, it's going to slow progress as they try to meticulously explain where their IP came from and it's going to cost millions in legal fees most likely if it actually gets to court. And all that's before we even consider whether they're likely win - which they're not, because Apple has much more resources at their disposal.

The VC likely has information regarding this matter that we do not.

how exactly do you ask Apple on what people were working on before leaving?

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact