clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Apple sues 11-year veteran MacBook designer for allegedly stealing trade secrets for a journalist

New, 28 comments

The company claims that Simon Lancaster, a former product design architect, was selling trade secrets

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Apple is suing Simon Lancaster, a former product design architect at the company, accusing him of selling trade secrets and details on unreleased Apple products to an unnamed media correspondent. Lancaster apparently did this in hopes of gaining publicity for his next venture after leaving Apple. AppleInsider first reported on the legal filing.

“Tens of thousands of Apple employees work tirelessly every day on new products, services and features in the hopes of delighting our customers and empowering them to change the world. Stealing ideas and confidential information undermines their efforts, hurting Apple and our customers,” commented Apple in a statement to The Verge. “We take very seriously this individual’s deliberate theft of our trade secrets, violation of our ethics and our policies, all for personal gain. We will do all we can to protect the innovations we hold so dear.”

According to Apple’s suit, Lancaster and his correspondent began communicating in 2018 about the possibility of obtaining information; the two then spent the next year in communication. Lancaster then reportedly contacted his correspondent in spring 2019, asking him to investigate rumors of a potential Apple product that could “mean trouble for my startup.” The lawsuit also claims that Lancaster boasted to a third party shortly after that conversation that his media contact would be writing a story on his startup if it hit $1 million in funding.

In October 2019, Lancaster reportedly notified his correspondent that he was planning to leave Apple, giving over secret information on Apple products and asking if they wanted “to write a story about a 12-year Apple Design Veteran leaving for an amazing startup?” The correspondent also allegedly asked Lancaster to get additional information on an unannounced project that Apple refers to as “Project X.”

Lancaster then submitted his notice of resignation to Apple on October 15th, but kept chatting with his media source — the next day, they allegedly asked for specific documents they wanted Lancaster to get before he left the company.

Apple also alleges that Lancaster specifically attended a meeting about “Project X” even after he had submitted his resignation notice, specifically to get more information to pass along to his media contact, despite the fact that he had been instructed by other employees not to attend.

The company also claims that Lancaster used his Apple credentials to download confidential information almost up until his employment ended at midnight on November 1st, 2019. According to Apple, Lancaster logged in from an external location at 10:24PM that day — this time, to get materials that the company says would help his new employer.

Lancaster started working at Apple in 2008 and spent 11 years working at the company, serving as advanced materials lead and product design architect in his final role there before leaving in 2019 to join Arris Composites, a material design company, as its head of consumer products. According to a press release announcing his switch to Arris, Lancaster worked on the 13-inch and 15-inch Macbook Pro with Touch Bar redesigns, along with “unreleased Apple products.”