Attendees wait for a product announcement event to begin on September 12, 2018 at Apple’s Cupertino, California headquarters.
Noah Berger | AFP | Getty Images
Apple sued a former employee in federal court in California on Thursday. Simon Lancaster, who worked as a product design architect, leaked trade secrets to a media member and asked for cheap coverage of companies in which he was involved in return.
In its lawsuit, Apple did not name the media correspondent or the details that Lancaster allegedly leaked.
The lawsuit underscores Apple’s approach to manufacturing products in complete secrecy. While all technology companies strictly protect intellectual property, Apple’s culture deeply emphasizes this, and the company has developed a system called “disclosure” where people on a project often have no knowledge of other parts of the project in order to prevent leaks.
According to the lawsuit, a reporter reached out to Lancaster in 2018, and the two communicated the next year before Lancaster left Apple in November 2019. During that time, Lancaster provided the reporter with information on unpublished products, including internal lawsuit documents. At one point, Lancaster shared with another contact that the reporter would cover a company he was involved in if it received $ 1 million in funding.
In November 2019, Arris Composites announced that they had discontinued Lancaster.
Apple considers details of unreleased products to be important trade secrets as a key part of the company’s marketing is to create “surprise and delight” when new products are revealed at closely choreographed launch events.
The lawsuit gives a glimpse into the nondisclosure conditions under which Apple designers and engineers create new products:
Some lessons from the lawsuit:
- Apple product teams often work for years in complete secrecy and under considerable personal strain.
- Secret Apple information is not available to employees and contractors until they have signed a “strict” confidentiality agreement.
- Even within Apple, employees can only learn to a limited extent what they can learn from a system in which they have to be “disclosed” in a project.
- Employees can only be “disclosed” in a secret project if an exposed employee asks them for access and gives a business reason for the disclosure.
- Apple has an in-house tool for managing information across the company.
- All employees on secret projects are required to attend safety training courses reminding them that they cannot even tell their immediate family members about the secrets they are working on.
- Anyone at an Apple facility without a corporate ID must be accompanied by an Apple representative.
- Apple believes competitors are starting to work on their own products after reading reports on upcoming Apple products.
- Apple believes that leaks in upcoming products can reduce customer demand for what’s currently on the market and lower the morale of the teams working on it.
“Tens of thousands of Apple employees work tirelessly every day on new products, services, and features to delight our customers and empower them to change the world. The theft of ideas and sensitive information undermines their efforts and harms Apple and the world our customers.” Apple spokesman said in a statement. “We take this person’s deliberate theft of our trade secrets, their violation of our ethics and policies very seriously, all for personal gain. We will do everything we can to protect the innovations that are so important to us.”
Messages sent to Lancaster and an Arris Composites representative asking for comment were not immediately returned.