Steve Jobs threatened Palm with patent suits to prevent poaching

Steve Jobs with iPad
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Former Palm chief executive Edward Colligan said in a sworn affidavit that Steve Jobs threatened to sue Palm over the firms poaching of Apple employees.

According to court documents, unearthed by Reuters, Jobs called Colligan to inform him that he would sue Palm for patent infringement if the company continued to actively recruit Apple employees. Colligan says he rejected the threats on the grounds that anti-poaching pacts are unethical and illegal.

"Steve, we don't want to hurt Apple. As I said on the phone, Palm is focused on building the best team in the industry, and we know there is a lot of quality talent outside of Apple," wrote Colligan in a recently unearthed email sent to the Apple chief executive.

"On the other hand, this is a small space and it's inevitable that we will bump into each. Threatening Palm with a patent lawsuit in response to a decision by one employee to leave Apple is just out of line."

Colligan's account comes from a sworn affidavit that came to light during an ongoing civil court case. The case's prosecution alleges that Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm and Pixar created a pact that prevented the firms from hiring employees away from each other.

According to the court documents, Jobs telephoned Colligan to warn him that Apple would not stand for Palm poaching its employees. Jobs alleged that if Palm continued its hiring practices Apple would sue the firm using its extensive patent portfolio.

In his response email to Jobs, Colligan denied ever purposefully poaching Apple employees and dismissed his threats. He told Jobs that threats of a patent suit meant little as Palm had its own extensive patent portfolio.

"I want to be clear that we are not intimidated by your threat. Palm has a very robust portfolio of patents, having been in the handheld and smartphone business since the early 90s," continued Colligan in the email.

No-poaching pacts are something of an open secret in Silicon Valley. Many firms work together to keep good talent in-house and employee wages consistent. However, documents also underscore the willingness of some firms to use their patent portfolio as a weapon in all manner of disputes.

24 Jan 2013

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