Skip to main content

Steve Jobs threatened Palm with lawsuit over employee 'poaching'

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs proposed deal with Palm to quit hiring each other's employees and threatened to sue otherwise.
Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs proposed deal with Palm to quit hiring each other's employees and threatened to sue otherwise.
  • Steve Jobs threatened to sue Palm over "poaching" employees, documents say
  • Former Apple CEO proposed agreement not to hire each others employees
  • Palm CEO called such a deal "wrong" and "likely illegal"
  • Biograpjy had mentioned Jobs' anger at Palm, but not lawsuit threats

(CNN) -- Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs threatened to hit Palm with patent litigation if the company did not stop poaching valuable employees, according to a newly unsealed court filing (hat tip to Reuters). The document surfaced as part of a lawsuit between former employees of companies like Apple, Google, and Intel over the companies' no-poaching agreements; US District Judge Lucy Koh denied parts of a request to keep some documents sealed, revealing Jobs' comments to Palm CEO Edward Colligan.

According to the document, which was filed late Tuesday, both Apple and Palm hired one another's employees during Colligan's tenure between 2003 and 2009. Colligan claims Jobs called him in August of 2007 — roughly two months after the public launch of the iPhone — to propose "an agreement" wherein Palm and Apple would not hire employees away from each other. Colligan's statement notes that the agreement contained a pretty strong "or else" clause: "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."

Steve Jobs' yacht impounded over pay dispute

Colligan sent an e-mail response to Jobs expressing his concern over the discussion. "Your proposal 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 wrote to Jobs on August 24, 2007.

Colligan went on to point out that Palm recruits employees based on talent, not because Palm wants to hurt other companies. "Threatening Palm with a patent lawsuit in response to a decision by one employee to leave Apple is just out of line. A lawsuit would not serve either of our interests and will not stop employees from migrating between our companies. [...] We will both just end up paying a lot of lawyers a lot of money."

Jobs replied a few hours later with a much shorter message. "This is not satisfactory to Apple," Jobs wrote. "I'm sure you realize the asymmetry in the financial resources of our respective companies when you say: 'We will both just end up paying a lot of lawyers a lot of money.'"

Photo: Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs in 'jOBS'

Jobs ended his letter by suggesting Colligan "take a look at our patent portfolio before you make a final decision here."

As noted by MacRumors, Walter Isaacson's 2011 biography of Steve Jobs made reference to Jobs' anger at Palm over the hiring of Apple employees, but did not discuss Jobs' threat of patent litigation.

Other companies involved in the lawsuit — including Apple, Adobe, Google, Intel, Intuit, and Pixar — had indeed begun to agree not to cold call each other's employees at that time. The US Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against the companies and forced them to dissolve the agreements in 2010, but the current lawsuit is a civil complaint filed by five former employees.

Current Apple CEO Tim Cook has been ordered by Judge Koh to give a deposition about Apple's role in the alleged collusion, although Apple argues that only Jobs was involved in the discussion and that Cook had no knowledge of the agreements.

10 things Steve Jobs taught us


Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.