Steve Jobs threatened to sue smartphone manufacturer Palm if the rival company did not agree to stop poaching Apple employees, according to documents made public by a US court.The communication from the late Apple co-founder came to light in a civil lawsuit brought by five tech workers against Apple Inc, Google Inc, Intel Corp and others, which alleges an illegal conspiracy to eliminate competition for each other’s employees and drive down wages.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs estimate that damages could run to hundreds of millions of dollars.
The defendant companies have attempted to keep a range of documents secret. US district judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, rejected parts of that request, which has now led to details of Jobs ‘ 2007 communications with then-Palm chief executive Edward Colligan being made public.
Jobs proposed eliminating competition between the two companies for talent, according to a sworn statement from Mr Colligan cited by the plaintiffs.
“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,” Mr Colligan said in the statement.
Mr Colligan told Jobs that the plan was “likely [to be] illegal,” and that Palm was not “intimidated” by the threat.
“If you choose the litigation route, we can respond with our own claims based on patent assets, but I don’t think litigation is the answer,” he said.
Ms Koh is due to rule whether the lawsuit can proceed as a class action, which would give the plaintiffs more leverage to extract a large settlement.
At a court hearing last week, Ms Koh cited emails between top executives as key evidence for plaintiffs, though the judge also said plaintiffs’ economic analysis had “holes.”
The court filings detail how Google developed its no-hire agreements.
Google’s then-chief executive Eric Schmidt told his human resources director that he would prefer any agreement over recruitment to be made “verbally, since I don’t want to create a paper trail over which we can be sued later”.
In another internal exchange, Google’s former staffing strategist Amnon Geshuri tells Mr Schmidt that a recruiter, having pursued an Apple employee, “will be terminated within the hour”.
Google spokeswoman Niki Fenwick said Google has “always actively and aggressively recruited top talent.”
Mr Schmidt is due to be questioned by plaintiff lawyers next month.
In 2010, Google, Apple, Adobe Systems Inc, Intel, Intuit Inc and Walt Disney Co’s Pixar unit agreed to a settlement of a US Justice Department probe that bars them from agreeing to refrain from poaching each other’s employees.
The Justice Department and California state antitrust regulators then sued eBay Inc in late 2012 over an alleged no-poaching deal with Intuit.
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