Apple progresses in breach-of-contract lawsuit against Nuvia founder

A former top chip engineer at Apple may face a considerable roadblock thanks to a breach-of-contract lawsuit Apple filed against him after he left the company and launched his own processor firm, Nuvia.

Robert Burnson for Bloomberg News:

Apple Nuvia lawsuit: NUVIA Inc co-founders John Bruno, Gerard Williams III and Manu Gulati pose at the company’s Santa Clara, California headquarters, U.S., in this undated handout photo released on November 15, 2019. Courtesy NUVIA Inc/Handout via REUTERS
NUVIA Inc co-founders John Bruno, Gerard Williams III and Manu Gulati pose at the company’s Santa Clara, California headquarters, U.S., in this undated handout photo released on November 15, 2019. Courtesy NUVIA Inc/Handout via REUTERS

Gerard Williams III helped lead development of the chips used to power iPhones during his decade as a platform architect with Apple before he founded Nuvia Inc. last year. Williams contends a provision in the contract he had with Apple conflicts with a California law that allows workers to develop new businesses while they are employed elsewhere.

But in a tentative ruling rejecting his request to toss the suit, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Mark Pierce said the law doesn’t permit an employee “to plan and prepare to create a competitive enterprise prior to termination if the employee does so on their employer’s time and with the employer’s resources.” The judge also dismissed a claim by Williams that Apple invaded his privacy by reviewing text messages he wrote to coworkers that were critical of the company. Williams sought to have those texts excluded as evidence in the suit. Pierce disagreed.

…Williams left Apple in February before starting Nuvia that same month with other former Apple developers. He was “chief architect” for Apple’s chips for its mobile devices. His new company is developing processors for use in data centers. In November, Nuvia exited stealth mode and announced funding worth $53 million.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote last last year, “Ooh, palace intrigue and the potential for secrets to be spilled in discovery! One problem springs immediately to mind for Apple: California state laws regarding non-competes and the like are very pro-employee. As for “invasion of privacy,” if Williams’ phone and texts were while he was employed with Apple, using Apple equipment and/or services, it’s within Apple’s purview to access them to protect the company’s trade secrets. Any properly managed company monitors its employees’ phone records and text messages via company-provided devices and services.

5 Comments

    1. “One problem springs immediately to mind for Apple: California state laws regarding non-competes and the like are very pro-employee.”

      As it should be. They lease us, they don’t own us.

      As for the rest of the MDN take, no issue. I always separated my work devices from my personal ones, I did not do BYO! If they wanted to monitor, it had to be on their equipment.

      1. I don’t believe California’s prohibition of non-competition restrictions applies to non-solicitation or non-disclosure. In other words, while Apple can’t prevent employees from starting businesses while employed, they DO prevent them from hiring co-workers within a year of leaving the company or applying Apple secrets to their new ventures.

        And agreed about work and personal devices. That is common. Although most people still commingle work and personal email accounts on their iPhones.

        1. No argument about exposing employer secrets, that’s under an NDA however, not a non-compete.

          As for non-solicitation clauses, as with non-competes, it unfairly restricts people from working as they please under a competitive work environment.

          1. It’s complicated. In California, the courts ruled that a company can legally enforce non-solicitation clauses under certain conditions. And I’m pretty sure Apple Legal is well versed in those loopholes, and that they are reflected in the Employee Agreement. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that lots of Apple employees have older agreements without those carefully crafted restrictions. Who knows?

            Tim Cook, care to chime in here? MDN Readers want to know!

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