Today most of us expect litigation between technology firms for things like patent and copyright infringement. What we might not expect is litigation against tech firms over agreements not to poach employees from one another. In the past the technology world has seen companies get together and agree to set pricing and other details on products, even though that’s illegal. The LCD industry is a prime example with an agreement for price-fixing and the massive fines they paid out the cause of it.
Big companies in Silicon Valley have allegedly put in place an agreement that they would not poach each other’s workers. Back in 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs shot an e-mail off to Eric Schmidt of Google asking why one of Google’s recruiters was actively going after an Apple engineer. The e-mail came to light recently after a 2010 Justice Department probe looking into Google, Apple, Adobe Systems, Intel, Intuit, and Pixar over allegations that the companies have each agreed to refrain from poaching to others employees.
Investigation came after a lawsuit by was filed by five software engineers to accuse these companies working together to conspire to keep employee salaries low by negating competition from other companies that hire workers. The e-mail Jobs sent was from March 2007. In the e-mail response to a Google recruiters attempts to hire an Apple engineer, Jobs wrote, “I would be very pleased if your recruiting department would stop doing this.” The e-mail went directly to Eric Schmidt among others. It’s worth noting that Schmidt was sitting on the Apple board at the time. Schmidt fired off his own e-mail to the Google staffing director that read, “Can you get this stopped and let me know why this is happening?”
Things didn’t go so well for the Google staffing person was attempting to recruit Apple engineer. Google’s staffing director sent back an e-mail to Schmidt saying in part, “[the person recruiting from Apple] will be terminated within the hour.” The e-mail content comes from an unredacted court filing was made public last week. The judge presiding over the case has indicated that it will move forward despite the technology firms attempting to get the case thrown from court. It appears that several damaging e-mails from the defendants have surfaced in the case, and it looks to me that the plaintiffs have a good chance of winning.