According to a court filing made public yesterday, Steve Jobs threatened Palm with a patent lawsuit in order to stop them from attempting to hire employees away from Apple. The communications between then-Palm CEO Edward Colligan and Jobs took place in 2007. The emails became public as part of a civil action brought against Apple, Google, Intel by five workers that alleged that these companies illegally conspired to end competition for one another’s employees. The threat from Jobs didn’t phase Colligan. According to Reuters:
Colligan told Jobs that the plan was "likely 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.
We knew most of this before, but the patent threat is new. No poaching deals are potentially illegal as they tend to lead to lower wages for workers because no other company in their field will hire them away from their current position, giving them little or no leverage to negotiate better salaries and benefits.
Apple, Google, Adobe, Intel, Intuit Inc. and Walt Disney Co's Pixar all settled with the US Justice Department in 2010 in order to avoid prosecution over these agreements. Since the current legal action is civil, these companies may still be liable. Judge Lucy Koh -- yes, the same Lucy Koh as the Apple vs Samsung trial -- is currently considering whether or not to allow the lawsuit to proceed as a class action, which gives the plaintiff’s a chance to receive a larger settlement should they win.
So what do you think, is business just business, or did Apple and Steve Jobs cross the line?