Public evidence shows Apple, Adobe had no-poaching pact

DOJ shows no hiring conspiracy, but small deals

Newly publicized evidence in the wake of an agreement to stop no-poaching deals among Silicon Valley technology companies has shown that several firms did ultimately have deals but stopped short of colluding on a larger level. Although short on details of the supposed Apple-Google agreement, an e-mail message from Adobe Senior VP of human resources Theresa Townsley confirmed that Adobe and Apple had an informal rule against hiring each other's staff. At least in 2005, Adobe chief Bruce Chizen and Apple's Steve Jobs had blocked attempts to get each other's staff.

"Bruce [Chizen] and Steve Jobs have an agreement that were are not to solicit ANY Apple employees, and vice versa," Townsley explained. "Please ensure all your worldwide recruiters know that were are not to solicit any Apple employee. I know that Jerry is soliciting one now, so he'll need to back off."

The same document mentions a "gentleman's agreement" between Lucasfilm and Pixar that ended up jumping to a relationship between Apple and Pixar, although it's not clear that Apple and Pixar would have competed regardless. For much of their histories, both Apple and Pixar were run by Steve Jobs.

Mentions also existed of a Google-Intel pact. A solo Palm in 2007 appeared to have been immune, however, as then-CEO Ed Colligan flatly rejected a no-poaching deal requested by Steve Jobs. Palm, once it brought on former Apple executive Jon Rubinstein, began hiring numerous recent Apple employees, something with which Colligan would have defended to Jobs as legal and fair. "Your proposal [at Apple] that we agree that neither company will hire the other's employees, regardless of the individual's desires, is not only wrong, it is likely illegal," Colligan told Jobs.

Department of Justice investigators determined through the communications and other details that companies had been aware of each other's anti-poaching agreements but hadn't gone so far as to make collective deals between more than two companies at a time. The finding was crucial for those implicated in the suit, as it could have seen criminal action rather than a DOJ settlement.

The companies still aren't out of trouble, as they face a private lawsuit whose trial begins January 26. As with the DOJ case, the concern exists that the no-poaching rules artificially kept pay and bonuses down in addition to preventing an organic shift in staff. [via TechCrunch]

High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation - Exhibit Joint Case Management Conference Statement 1/19/2012
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