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Apple sues former employee for allegedly leaking to media

Lancaster revealed trade secrets about unreleased Apple products

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The former materials lead at Apple has been sued by the company, with the complaint addressing alleged misappropriation of trade secrets that were then sold to an unnamed publication in exchange for favorable coverage of a startup.

The leaks and rumors industry built around Apple can be a dangerous one. Simon Lancaster, former materials lead at Apple, has been accused of accessing data outside of his job's scope then selling it to a media outlet.

The accusation

A court document made public on Thursday describes the accusation.

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.

Apple claims that the media venue published the stolen trade secrets in assorted articles, citing a "source" at Apple. The suit also alleges that Lancaster traded the information for benefits, including positive coverage of his new company.

After his departure from Apple, his role with the correspondent deepened according to the accusation. Apple investigated the Apple-issued devices used by Lancaster to determine his continued connection with the correspondent, and discovered that he took specific steps to obtain additional Apple trade secrets.

Lancaster had sent the correspondent specific details upon request, sometimes using Apple-issued devices and other times in person. The trade secrets divulged included product plans for unannounced devices and updates to existing lines.

After Lancaster left Apple, he joined a materials research and development company called Arris. He described his departure as "needing to scratch a startup itch" in his LinkedIn page.

Apple says Arris is an Apple vendor and which enabled Lancaster to continue to siphon trade secrets.

On Lancaster's last day at Apple, he downloaded a "substantial number" of confidential Apple documents from Apple's corporate network onto his personal computer that would benefit him at Arris.

Timeline of events

Image of products Lancaster was a part of building per his LinkedIn page
Image of products Lancaster was a part of building per his LinkedIn page

Simon Lancaster worked as an Advanced Materials Lead and Product Design Architect at Apple until November 1, 2019. His role involved evaluating materials and prototyping innovations to enable future generations of products. Because of his senior role, Lancaster was granted access to certain Secret Apple Information.

The media correspondent first contacted Lancaster on November 29, 2018. Through the remainder of 2018 and into 2019 multiple calls, messages, and emails were exchanged about Apple trade secrets.

In Spring 2019, Lancaster expressed displeasure with Apple based on a story published about a rumored product. He asked the correspondent to investigate this rumor because "it could mean trouble for my startup."

Less than two weeks later, Lancaster communicated to a third party that the correspondent would publish an article after the startup obtained $1 million in funding. By September of 2019, the two were meeting in person and exchanging physical documents and information.

Lancaster told the correspondent he would be leaving Apple in October and asked if they'd write a story "about a 12-year Apple Design Veteran leaving for an amazing startup." He was referring to Arris, which works with Apple, but that couldn't be mentioned in the article.

He then shared a document labeled "confidential" with the correspondent, to which Apple refers to as "Project X." Lancaster then notified Apple of his departure on October 15, 2019, but failed to turn over his appropriated documents. Based on the timeline of events, AppleInsider believes that this is related to the ongoing rumors about "Apple Glass" and Apple's augmented and virtual reality efforts, or possibly the AirPods Max.

Even as he exited the company he attended meetings, one for "Project X." Apple told him directly he shouldn't attend the meeting and was warned again during the meeting. He left before it concluded, but had learned more Apple secrets before doing so.

Nine days after announcing his exit, Lancaster requested access to documents pertaining to two other projects he didn't belong to. He sent that data to the correspondent as well.

Days after departing Apple, Lancaster congratulated the correspondent about the success of an article that disclosed Apple secrets.

Apple brings up three direct causes of action — violation of Defense of Trade Secret Act, violation of California Uniform Trade Secret Act, and a breach of written contract.

Apple requests that the court provide judgment in its favor for injunctive relief, damages proven at trial, punitive damages, restitution, and costs of the lawsuit. Apple also demands a trial by jury.