Apple Sues Former Employee for Leaking Trade Secrets to Unnamed ‘Media Correspondent’ (PDF)

Apple v. Simon Lancaster, filed today in United States district court in California:

Plaintiff Apple Inc. (“Apple”) brings this action to stop the misappropriation of Apple’s trade secrets by its former employee Simon Lancaster.

Despite over a decade of employment at Apple, Lancaster abused his position and trust within the company to systematically disseminate Apple’s sensitive trade secret information in an effort to obtain personal benefits. He used his seniority to gain access to internal meetings and documents outside the scope of his job’s responsibilities containing Apple’s trade secrets, and he provided these trade secrets to his outside media correspondent (“Correspondent”). The Correspondent then published the stolen trade secrets in articles, citing a “source” at Apple. On multiple occasions, Lancaster proposed that the Correspondent give benefits to Lancaster in exchange for Apple’s trade secrets. For example, Lancaster proposed that the Correspondent provide favorable coverage of a startup company in which Lancaster was an investor as a quid pro quo. Lancaster even recruited the Correspondent to serve as his personal investigator. In one instance, Lancaster requested that the Correspondent explore a rumor that could prove harmful to a company in which Lancaster had invested. […]

On October 10, 2019, the Correspondent requested additional confidential information from Lancaster related to another unannounced Apple project referred to herein as “Project X.”

On October 15, 2019, Lancaster submitted his resignation to Apple, and he began off-boarding from his roles within the company. […] On October 16, 2019, the Correspondent asked Lancaster “can you grab me those docs before you leave”? Lancaster responded “which ones,” and the Correspondent then identified specific Apple confidential documents that they wanted Lancaster to misappropriate.

Later that month, Lancaster informed the Correspondent that he intended to attend a meeting regarding Project X. […] Prior to the time Lancaster attended the Project X meeting, he was instructed by Apple that he should not attend the meeting, especially given his announced departure. Additional Apple personnel told Lancaster during the meeting that he should not be present. Lancaster eventually left the meeting, but he learned substantial SAI regarding Project X before leaving. Lancaster wrote to one of his managers who had instructed him that he should not be in the meeting that “I had already been exposed to all the hardware they showed while I was in the [meeting]. Was just hoping to see a demo.” On information and belief, this communication by Lancaster was intended to disguise his efforts to misappropriate Apple trade secrets regarding Project X.

On information and belief, Lancaster transmitted the trade secret SAI gleaned from this meeting to the Correspondent on the same day the meeting occurred. […]

November 1, 2019 was Lancaster’s final day of employment at Apple and his credentials to log into the secure Apple corporate network were set to expire at midnight. But at 10:24 p.m. that same day, Lancaster used his credentials to log onto Apple’s secure corporate network from a location outside Apple facilities. On information and belief, Lancaster used this access to download additional SAI before his login credentials expired. In particular, Lancaster downloaded confidential information that would assist his new employer.

Mere days after Lancaster’s final day at Apple, Lancaster had a call with the Correspondent and later congratulated the Correspondent about the success of an article that disclosed SAI that Lancaster had misappropriated in his final weeks of employment at Apple.

Project X could be anything, but it sure sounds like Apple’s VR/AR glasses project. There just aren’t that many secret Apple projects that have been written about, and Project X does not sound like Project Titan (the car). There aren’t that many candidates for the “correspondent”, either. The Information ran a piece bylined by Wayne Ma, Alex Heath, and Nick Wingfield on 11 November 2019, “Apple Eyes 2022 Release for AR Headset, 2023 for Glasses”. Then there’s Bloomberg, which ran a piece solo bylined by Mark Gurman on 21 October 2019, “Apple’s Smart Glasses Could Make 2020 the Year of AR”:

Such applications are central to Apple’s long-awaited AR glasses, which are expected to have holographic displays in their lenses. Apple has targeted 2020 for the release of its AR headset, an attempt to succeed where Google Glass failed years ago. The glasses are expected to synchronize with a wearer’s iPhone to display things such as texts, emails, maps, and games over the user’s field of vision. The company has considered including an App Store with the headset, as it does on Apple TV streaming devices and the Apple Watch. It’s hiring experts in graphics and game development to establish the glasses as the leader in a new product category and, if all goes perfectly, an eventual successor to the iPhone.

Thursday, 11 March 2021