updated 07:55 am EDT, Thu August 20, 2009
Palm Nixed Apple Job Deal
Apple's practice of striking agreements to avoid poaching other companies' workers almost extended to Palm as well, according to a leak of conversations between the two. Just as the US Justice Department has been investigating possible anti-competitive behavior between Apple and Google as well as other technology firms, Bloomberg has reportedly found that since departed Palm chief Ed Colligan rejected a proposal from Apple's Steve Jobs in 2007 that would have prevented either company from hiring each other's employees.
The intercepted communications show Jobs concerned at the time that former Apple executive and then-recent Palm hire Jon Rubinstein was trying to recruit Apple engineers and other employees.
Colligan rejected the notion of a pact as "wrong" and "likely illegal," although Jobs isn't known to have specifically set out any terms in the messages. He had considered making certain concessions before ultimately deciding against any such change. Antitrust law often considers such deals illegal as it risks either reinforcing one company's position or creating duopolies.
Both companies have drawn on each other's talent in the past, but Palm's recruiting during Rubinstein's early role as board chairman is known to have been particularly damaging to Apple. Many of the new hires had worked on either the iPhone or the iPod (partly created by Rubinstein) and worked on what would eventually become the Pre and its webOS platform. The smartphone is not only one of the very few to support true multi-touch like the iPhone, raising concerns of possible patent infringement, but takes advantage of the former Apple staff's experience to sync with iTunes, a feature that has triggered a more active conflict between the two as Apple has tried but so far failed to specifically exclude Palm's devices from its software.
Palm has so far defended itself by arguing that it has a safe patent portfolio of its own that would protect multi-touch as well as making allegations that Apple is abusing its privileges under the USB standard to prevent other devices from working properly. It has also remained undeterred by Jobs' requests, as Rubinstein has only gained more importance at Palm and replaced Colligan as CEO shortly after the Pre launch.
Neither Apple nor Palm has agreed to comment on the apparent discovery.