Steve Jobs was never the most popular guy around, and this latest revelation is not going to help mend that image. According to a court filing made public on Tuesday, the late Apple co-founder threatened to file a patent lawsuit against Palm if its chief executive Jon Rubinstein didn't agree to stop poaching Apple employees. The statement was made by former Palm CEO Ed Colligan in August last year.
Colligan’s statement is backed up by recently-released evidence that shows Silicon Valley's big names such as Apple, Google, Intel and others entering a gentleman’s agreement, which has resulted in a civil lawsuit by affected employees. The employees are fighting for class action status and damages for the resulting lost wages, which could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs
A Reuters report says the defendant tech companies failed in their attempt to keep a range of documents secret, which led to details of Jobs' 2007 communications with Colligan becoming part of the public record. “Mr. Jobs also suggested that if Palm did not agree to such an arrangement, Palm could face lawsuits alleging infringement of Apple's many patents,” Colligan said in the statement. He also told Jobs that the plan was “likely illegal“, and that Palm was not “intimidated” by the threat of legal action.
It wasn’t only Palm that was the target of Jobs's ire. One email exchange between Jobs and then Google CEO Eric Schmidt reveal that the former demanded that Google's cellphone software group stop “relentlessly recruiting” from Apple's iPod team.
The Verge revealed another internal exchange in which Google's former senior staffing stategist Amnon Geshuri informs Schmidt that a recruiter will be “terminated within the hour” for having approached an Apple employee. Former head of Google’s People Operations Shona Brown asked Geshuri to “make a public example of this termination with the group“. But Schmidt, now Google’s executive chairman and scheduled to be questioned by plaintiff lawyers next month, advised discretion and implored them to share the agreements verbally to avoid leaving a paper trail and the possibility of a lawsuit.
Google spokeswoman Niki Fenwick responded on Tuesday saying Google has “always actively and aggressively recruited top talent.“
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh is currently mulling whether the lawsuit can proceed as a class action, which would give the plaintiffs more leverage to extract a large settlement.
Earlier, in 2010, Google, Apple, Adobe Systems, Intel and other companies had agreed to settle a Justice Department probe barring them from entering a no-poaching agreement.
This latest development isn’t the only poaching-related lawsuit in California’s courts. The Justice Department and California State Antitrust Regulators sued eBay in late 2012 over an alleged no-poaching deal with financial software company Intuit. In another court filing, eBay Inc. asked a US judge to dismiss the lawsuits, saying the company had done nothing wrong. eBay’s reasoning was that antitrust law “does not exist to micromanage the interaction between the officers and directors of a public company”.