Hewlett-Packard Co sued former Chief Executive Mark Hurd and asked a court to block him from joining Oracle Corp, saying his hiring by the rival technology firm puts HP's trade secrets “in peril.” Oracle, the world's third-largest software maker, named Hurd co-president and director on Monday, a month after he resigned from HP over expense account irregularities related to a female contractor. Hurd's separation agreement from HP did not include a non-compete provision, which are generally unenforceable in California. But it did include a two-year confidentiality pact. In a civil complaint filed in Superior Court in Santa Clara County on Tuesday, HP said: “In his new positions, Hurd will be in a situation in which he cannot perform his duties for Oracle without necessarily using and disclosing HP's trade secrets and confidential information to others.”

But employment and intellectual property lawyers said HP will have a tough time convincing a court. “I think HP has a real uphill battle here,” said Cliff Palefsky of San Francisco law firm McGuinn, Hillsman & Palefsky, who represents plaintiffs in employment cases. “The notion is that you cannot do your job without using our trade secrets. And without specifics, it's just not likely to fly,” he said. Oracle called HP's lawsuit “vindictive” and said the company's board is making it “virtually impossible” for the two companies to partner together. “By filing this vindictive lawsuit against Oracle and Mark Hurd, the HP board is acting with utter disregard for that partnership, our joint customers, and their own shareholders and employees,” Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said in a statement.

HP said if Hurd is allowed to go to Oracle it would “give Oracle a strategic advantage as to where to allocate or not allocate resources and exploit the knowledge of HP's strengths and weaknesses.” Hurd “cannot separate out HP's trade secrets and confidential information in performing his daily duties at Oracle,” the complaint said. HP asked the court to block Hurd from holding a position with a competitor in which it will be impossible for him to avoid disclosing sensitive information. Linda Stevens, an intellectual property attorney at Schiff Hardin, said California courts have not been receptive to the doctrine of so-called “inevitable disclosure.” “It's pretty clear in California now that the courts are hostile to and have not adopted and in fact have rejected the inevitable disclosure doctrine,” she said.

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