Mark Papermaster trial between Apple and IBM gets ugly

The Mark Papermaster saga is getting crazier and crazier. As of Friday, Papermaster "will immediately cease his employment with Apple Inc. until further order of this court," U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas in White Plains, New York, said in an order issued after markets closed. Apple says that they believe they will prevail "when the dust settles".

While a big blow to Apple, the case is far from over. In a deposition today, Papermaster said that in the 25 years he has worked at IBM, they have never competed directly.

Update: the full quote was originally taken out of context. Here's the entire paragraph:

“Until this litigation effort by IBM, aside from the divested IBM personal computer business and a single sale several years ago of Apple’s Xserve product to a university, I do not recall a single instance of Apple being described as a competitor of IBM during my entire tenure at IBM with Apple."

While that seems like a bit of a stretch (remember the 1984 commercial? Those weren't Blackberry drones marching around), it does seem that, at least on ...erm...paper, Papermaster's new role isn't something that would constitute a threat to IBM. Papermaster's new role is VP in charge of iPhone and iPod divisions.


However, with iPods and iPhones likely to have some new in-house ARM Cortex based chips from recently acquired PA Semi, the relationship gets a bit more murky.

In reality, this whole incident reeks of bad blood between IBM and a departing employee. According to court papers, IBM "counter offered" Papermaster a significant raise (never take a counter offer people) when they heard he was planning to leave. Papermaster refused because he wanted the opportunity to work directly with Steve Jobs.

Non-compete agreements are often unlawful (especially in California) because they basically make skilled workers into indentured servants. Papermaster isn't going to be able to get a job in Public Relations after building computer components for 25 years. Any company that makes computer components could be considered a competitor. Is he supposed to go work for a company that doesn't make computers?

Apple seems like about the furthest from competition he could get from IBM without leaving the computer industry. IBM is as much about business as Apple is about consumer.

The long term problem for Big Blue is that IBM risks losing to ability to attract talent with this type of behavior. Would you work for a company that wouldn't let you practice your trade at another company - even if it wasn't a competitor?

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