After filing suit against competing start-up Rivos Inc., Apple Inc. has asked for a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the company and former-Apple-now-Rivos employees from exploiting semiconductor technology trade secrets. In particular, last Friday’s TRO seeks to halt the misuse of Apple’s proprietary technology as well as elicit discovery from one employee who allegedly lifted hundreds of sensitive documents relating to both existing and unreleased system-on-chips (SoCs).
Apple filed the complaint for trade secret misappropriation and breach of contract against Rivos and three former Apple engineers last month. The Northern District of California suit explains that Apple has dedicated substantial time and resources to developing cutting edge SoCs, which are used in electronics, including smartphones and laptop computers.
Beginning in July 2021, Rivos, a “stealth mode” start-up intending to build competing SoCs, embarked on a coordinated campaign to target Apple engineers with access to Apple’s most valuable trade secrets. Since then, the motion says, Rivos has continued to siphon Apple employees, by now wooing away more than 40, with the most recent departures occurring this month.
The complaint details attempts made to reconcile the issues complained of in the TRO motion. Apple said that one employee who left Apple for Rivos but has since departed from the latter agreed to a court order “requiring the return of any Apple confidential information in his possession, to stop using any such information, and to allow a third-party forensic search of any devices potentially containing such information.”
Apple allegedly asked the same of Rivos and the employee it is apparently most concerned about, but Rivos’ counsel reportedly refused and further dug in their heels when asked whether they had searched the devices the employees used to lift Apple’s proprietary information.
Now, Apple claims it has no way of knowing whether Rivos is using its proprietary information to develop competing products, forcing it to file for a TRO.
Substantively, the plaintiff argues that it is likely to succeed on the merits of its trade secrets claim and the relevant breach of contract claim. As to irreparable harm, Apple asserts that no amount of damages can wind back the clock once a valuable trade secret, especially one pertaining to such expensive, cutting-edge technology, is misappropriated.