In a lawsuit, Broadcom has accused Elon Musk’s SpaceX of using an agreement under which the companies explored a cooperative deal to supply microchips to poach its top engineers.
The company says SpaceX violated nondisclosure agreements and poached its top engineers “to procure a family of sophisticated, customized computer chips without bearing all of the research and development costs inevitably involved in creating such chips,” according to the complaint filed March 23….
Broadcom’s co-founder and chief technology officer Henry Samueli met with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in October 2015 in attempts to solidify an agreement, at which time Musk insisted Broadcom keep its “A-team” on the project, according to the complaint.
But even as Samueli and Musk were meeting, other SpaceX representatives were attempting to uncover the identities of the “A-team” engineers working on the Space X project, Broadcom says in its complaint.
Five Broadcom engineers – all of whom worked on the SpaceX project – resigned their positions with the company effective March 11, and refused to disclose their new employer, according to the complaint.
Broadcom says SpaceX confirmed they hired the five engineers on March 9, saying nothing prevented them from hiring other Broadcom engineers.
For its part, SpaceX says the Broadcom engineers – all named as defendants in Broadcom’s complaint – approached them.
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Editor’s Note: The computer chips are likely for SpaceX’s planned 4,000 satellite constellation for global Internet service. I can’t see what else they could be used for.
Not to pre-judge this dispute, but stories like this about SpaceX have circulated in the space industry for years. Two sources who previously worked with Musk told me that it was standard operating procedure to approach potential partners with the goal of identifying which employees to hire. A third source told me of a case where every employee in a potential partner company received offers to work for SpaceX.
There’s a general view that SpaceX sees partner and supplier relationships as temporary until the company can bring production in house. At least for anything worth producing in house. Sources have alleged to me that the company has not been respectful of other people’s intellectual property.
A friend of mine from Silicon Valley says these are common practices — along with 70 hour work weeks — that Musk brought with him from that tech hub. I think he’s right; if you want to understand how Musk has disrupted the space industry, you need to start there.
This is one of the main areas where Ashlee Vance’s biography of Musk falls short. There’s a passage in it where Musk is complaining about Jeff Bezos hiring away SpaceX engineers. If the author had talked to more of Musk’s competitors, he could have played that scene with the irony it deserved.
Musk is beloved by the NewSpace crowd for his company’s achievements, but he and his company are absolutely hated by a large segment of the space industry. Some of that is jealousy over SpaceX’s success, but much of it has to do with Musk’s business practices.