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Dead Steve Jobs' patent war threat to Palm over 'no-hire pact'

New twist in court claims Apple, Google and pals conspired to keep wages low

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Steve Jobs threatened the CEO of Palm with a patent bash-up if he didn't stop nicking Apple employees, a court filing in an antitrust lawsuit has revealed.

Apple and other tech defendants, including Google and Intel, are the subject of a civil suit brought by five tech workers alleging that the firms conspired to eliminate competition in the employment market and drive down wages.

Both sides have been trying to get numerous evidentiary documents sealed, including evidence from then-Palm chief exec Edward Colligan, but District Judge Lucy Koh partially rejected their pleas and allowed Colligan's details of phone and email conversations with Jobs to go on the public record.

Colligan claims that Jobs called him in 2007 and suggested that they come to an arrangement about high-tech employees, agreeing not to hire them away from each other. The exec alleged that Jobs also suggested that if that didn't suit Colligan, Palm could end up facing lawsuits over patents.

The Palm chief says he refused to do the deal with Jobs, which Colligan wrote in his emailed reply to Jobs was "not only wrong, [but] likely illegal".

"Steve, we don't want to hurt Apple," Colligan's email read. "As I said on the phone, Palm is focused on building the best team in the industry, and we know there is a lot of quality talent outside of Apple.

"On the other hand, this is a small space, and it's inevitable that we will bump into each other. Threatening Palm with a patent lawsuit in response to a decision by one employee to leave Apple is just out of line.

"If you choose the litigation route, we can respond with our own claims… but I don't think litigation is the answer. We will both just end up paying a lot of lawyers a lot of money," he added.

Jobs however, didn't appear impressed by the idea of Palm's counter-litigation. In the email entered into evidence, Jobs accused two former Apple workers, Jon Rubenstein and Fred Anderson, of using their knowledge to actively poach the fruity firm's employees and he said that Palm's patents just weren't good enough to make him break a sweat.

"Just for the record, when Siemens sold their handset business to BenQ they didn't sell them their essential patents but rather just gave them a license. The patents they did sell to BenQ are not that great. We looked at them ourselves when they were for sale," he wrote in an emailed reply.

"I guess you guys felt differently and bought them. We are not concerned about them at all. My advice is to take a look at our patent portfolio before you make a final decision here."

In 2010, Google, Adobe, Intel, Apple, Intuit and Pixar all agreed to a settlement with the US Department of Justice over "no-poaching" agreements, promising that they wouldn't make deals on staff again. eBay is also on the hook for a similar agreement with Intuit, which the online bazaar strongly denies.

The separate civil suit has the potential to turn into a class action case if Judge Koh allows it, which could make any win a massive one for tech workers, running into hundreds of millions of dollars. ®

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