Steve Jobs threatened Palm with patents in antitrust case, says court filing

The Harvard Business Review ranked the top 100 CEOs from 1995 to the present. Susan Battley, CEO of Battley Performance Consulting, talks about the lack of women on the list. CBS

Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs reportedly threatened Palm with a patent lawsuit if the company didn't agree to a deal with Apple whereby neither company would poach the other's workers, according to a legal filing made public Tuesday that quotes former Palm CEO Edward Colligan.

The filing is part of a civil lawsuit brought by five tech workers against Apple, Google, and others that alleges the companies plotted to drive down wages by making a no employee-poaching deal.  Colligan submitted the following sworn statement to support his claims:

"In 2007, I received a call from Steve Jobs, the Chief Executive Officer of Apple. In the months before the call, several employees had moved between the two companies. On the call, Mr. Jobs expressed concern about employees being hired away from Apple by Palm. As a solution, Mr. Jobs proposed an arrangement between Palm and Apple by which neither company would hire the other's employees, including high tech employees. Mr. Jobs also suggested that if Palm did not agree to such an arrangement, Palm could face lawsuits alleging infringements of Apple's many patents."

Colligan's response to Jobs -- that such an arrangement was "not only wrong" but "likely illegal" -- was reported, along with mention of Apple's patents, in 2009 by Bloomberg, which cited communications it had reviewed. But a sworn statement from Colligan became part of the public record Tuesday -- along with e-mails he says passed between him and Jobs -- after Judge Lucy Koh denied a request by the companies facing the civil suit to keep a number of sensitive documents sealed. Koh said last week that the e-mails between the two executives were key evidence for the plaintiffs in the case, according to Reuters.

In his e-mail response to Jobs, Colligan says that if Apple decides to pursue patent-related legal action, Palm can respond with patent action of its own. Jobs replied by diminishing Palm's patents and saying "We are not concerned about them at all. My advice to you is to take a look at our patent portfolio before you make a decision."

Koh is considering whether the civil lawsuit can proceed as a class-action suit, Reuters reports, which could make for a larger settlement. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say damages could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, but according to the news agency, Koh said the plaintiffs' economic analysis had "holes."

Apple and Palm did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.

Tuesday's filing also spells out how Google put together no-hire agreements, Reuters reports, and it says that then-CEO Eric Schmidt advised the company's HR director not to put anything in writing when sharing agreements with rivals. A Google representative told the news agency that Google has "always actively and aggressively recruited top talent."

Here's Colligan's sworn statement, as posted by Apple Insider:

Colligan Affidavit

This article originally appeared on CNET under the headline "Steve Jobs threatened Palm with patents over no-poaching deal, says court filing."

  • Edward Moyer On Twitter»

    Crave writer Edward Moyer, also CNET News' Saturday editor, once built a model of the DNA molecule for a PBS science series--out of telephone cord and tapioca balls. He also worked at USA Today and other pubs--waxing philosophical with Elvis' ex and slurping spaghetti with Roller Girl of "Boogie Nights," among other things. E-mail Ed with your story ideas and insights.

Comments