If you’re one of those people who are into Apple, the ‘Find my iPhone’ feature is one you’ll be familiar with and probably love. While the dreaded experience of losing your new iPhone is a worrying prospect, that little green icon that helps you find it means you can live worry free, for the most part.
However, one ex-Apple engineer named Darren Eastman is now suing the tech giant for more than $350,000, claiming that he was the one who invented the unique feature, but received no credit and was later wrongfully fired.
Battery Error Patent
Eastman claims he arrived at his job with Apple with some great ideas, which he felt could make the company a lot of money. But credit where credit is due, and now the disgruntled employee is claiming he got none. His first great idea was his own battery error detection patent which paved the way for Apple’s original MacBook Air, according to him.
For anyone who owns one (this writer included) there’s nothing quite like the brushed metallic feel and usability of Apple’s MacBook Air, especially when you’re on the go but need to get some work done. No one even disputed the fact that Eastman was awarded that patent, which means the laptop has a non-serviceable battery. But when he lost his iPhone back in 2008, he came up with a way to locate any missing smartphone or computer.
The late and great founder of Apple Steve Jobs even met with Eastman about his idea back in 2006. During that meeting, Eastman claims, Jobs said the idea was “huge” and that it was “a killer idea.” When he told Jobs about another idea he had for electronic ticketing, he responded that it was “insanely great” and that it could “break up the monopoly” held by Ticketmaster at the time.
To document his phone-finding idea at the time, Eastman opened a radar ticket on Apple’s internal bug tracking system. He also told his work colleagues about the idea. However, Apple’s director of iTunes at the time dismissed the idea, claiming customers “would hate such a feature and feel Apple was spying on them.” But he received mixed responses from his colleagues.
In early 2009, Eastman took the idea to then VP of iCLoud, Eddy Cue, who was generally positive about the initiative. Cue said the idea was worth considering at the time, so he approached the then VP of iOS, Scott Forstall, who was also a big fan of his revolutionary idea. But his idea, according to him, was stolen by the bigwigs at Apple, despite his numerous emails to try and patent it himself.
After taking his idea to Forstall, he asked him if patent protection for the technology should be sought. When Forstall said it was a good idea, he emailed Apple patent counsel Richard von Wohld, but was ignored. Then, two years later, Apple filed four utility patents for the feature, excluding Eastman’s name from them all. But Eastman wasn’t about to take it laying down.
Eastman got himself some sound legal advice and is now trying to get recognition for his battery error patent (US 7877631B2), as well as five other patents, all of which relate to locating lost phones and the electronic system he devised for tickets. Eastman feels left out and duped by the bosses who he once trusted.
For his part, Eastman simply wants what he feels is due to him. For starters, there are 735 Apple shares that he wants returned to him. There’s also the tidy sum of $326,400 in damages, plus $32,640 in interest and $5,000 in attorney’s fees. He is on solid ground for his claims as he signed an Intellectual Property Agreement, at least for his Passbook technology ideas, before joining Apple in 2006.
In an email sent to The Register recently, Eastman explained his decision to represent himself in the legal proceedings against his former company. “I’m representing myself because my attorney had a sudden and serious illness, and, has been recovering for some time. We didn’t know if he’d recover quickly enough before statutes of limitations passed from Apple ignoring us for nearly two years. Then, I became financially challenged after not working since 2014,” he wrote.
Eastman claims that he was tight with Jobs before his death and that Jobs was a big fan of him and his work. He claims that the then-CEO appreciated his graduate school work on low-cost computers and assured him more than once that “he’d always work for Apple and indicated that a job would always be available for him.” However, Eastman claims that things went south after Jobs died and Tim Cook took over as CEO.
As a big fan of the late Steve Jobs, Eastman claims that Apple’s commitment to quality has seen a downturn in recent years. As part of his complaint about his former employer, Eastman wrote, “Many talented employees who’ve given part of their life for Apple were now regularly being disciplined and terminated for reporting issues they were expected to during Mr. Jobs tenure.”
For Eastman, the very future of Apple is at stake if they continue to allow quality standards to drop further. “Cronyism and a dedicated effort to ignore quality issues in current and future products became the most important projects to perpetuate the goal of ignoring the law and minimizing tax,” he added, asserting that complaints to CEO Cook went unanswered.
Eastman asserted that the internal culture at Apple is deteriorating: “The executive team’s main focus is eliminating tax liability and bad PR being disseminated about Apple. … No corporate responsibility exists at Apple since Mr. Jobs’ death. There’s no accountability, with attempts at doing the right thing met with swift retaliation.”
While there’s no reason to disbelieve Eastman, his claims do veer into the territory of sounding a bit bitter. He also claims that his former manager was fired for criticizing the benefits of a proposed project. He also said that the manager’s daughter was fired shortly after for reporting toxic mold in the Apple building where she worked. While these claims are yet to be substantiated, Apple spokespeople declined to offer any answers or comment when contacted by reporters.
If Eastman’s claims are bonafide, they are certainly worrying. He says that in 2009 he was denied his request to manage a team he’d been working with for four years. Instead, he alleges, Apple employed a manager with no college degree, management or programming experience at all. In 2013, Eastman asked to be moved under a different manager but was denied.
By 2014, Eastman’s position at the company had become untenable. In May of that year, Eastman was issued a final written warning for “discourteous behavior” even though he claims he never received a first or second warning. But claims of retaliation and discrimination were the final straws for Eastman, who says he was unlawfully terminated.
Eastman also claims that he acquired seven different disabilities as a result of working in front of a computer for such long hours at Apple. In 2013, he had life-saving neurosurgery and needed to take eight months leave from work. When he returned to work four months earlier than expected, he says he was discriminated against and ultimately terminated.
Apple felt that dismissing Eastman was the right thing to do at the time. They said as much in a communication email they sent ahead of the firing: “It was explained … that [Eastman’s] fixing a critical quality bug … and attempting to solicit [his manager] to do his job in ensuring the fix was integrated before customer shipment was improper communication.”
Darren Eastman put it well when he explained in his statement that he had learned a lot from Steve Jobs before his death. “Steve taught me many things,” Eastman said, “but the most important was that Apple’s greatest strength has always been its employees – many of whom make great sacrifices for Apple and deserve the same ethical treatment as if they were working for any other company.”
While Eastman claims that all he wants is what’s due to him, he also spoke about the importance of treating employees with respect – something he claims Jobs supported. “The responsibility which comes with treating your employees correctly will also help Apple fix its management and quality problems,” he said. “Being the most valuable company in the world doesn’t mean anybody’s above the law. I dream of a day when fixing the toughest problems and delighting the customer return to being priorities again at Apple.”