Amazon fails to stop ex-sales staffer winging it to Google Cloud

Verdict of two halves

Amazon has failed to stop high-flying salesman Philip Moyer, who once flogged its cloud services to the financial services industry, from moving to Google's cloud division, although its efforts were partly upheld by a Seattle court.

Even though Amazon Web Services couldn't prevent Moyer from taking up his new role, US district judge Ricardo S Martinez did impose severe conditions on his activities at Google Cloud.

AWS had been seeking to prevent the sales exec from starting work at Google's rival division, where he'd planned to head up sales for customers in the life sciences and healthcare sectors.

Before starting at AWS, Moyer had had to sign a non-compete agreement to be enforced if he ever chose to leave. Amazon had asked for an injunction to stop him starting work at the Chocolate Factory, claiming the job would break the contract.

Moyer insisted his new job would not involve any contact with previous financial services clients and that healthcare is a fundamentally different market. But Jeff Bezos's firm claimed Moyer's access to confidential information and company strategy means he couldn't work for Google - even outside the financial services field.

The court has granted Amazon a preliminary injunction, although it said AWS had overstated Moyer's involvement in certain areas of the business. The main condition of the injunction is that Moyer is prohibited from working with Google Cloud's financial services customers. While that isn't an issue now - as he works for the healthcare vertical - it does prevent his career mobility later down the line.

US District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez said in the filing that "the Court does not look favorably on Amazon's apparent practices."

Moyer is also prohibited from "contacting existing AWS customers, including healthcare customers", as well as any financial services firms he'd worked with in his previous role at AWS. The judge also ordered he refrain from contacting any potential AWS or Google Cloud customers in the finance sector.

It’s the first condition that’s likely to be troublesome for Moyer. AWS is the largest cloud computing provider on the world. This injunction effectively prevents him from talking to anyone who might consider moving their tech infrastructure from Amazon to Google.

In issuing the ruling, Judge Martinez noted that although there was no indication of ill-will from Moyer, he does have knowledge that could give an edge to Google Cloud's sales strategies.

The interests at issue here are the knowledge and information Moyer has learned and the business relationships he has forged while working for Amazon. Moyer interacted with AWS's financial services customers extensively, building relationships, gaining insight into their business needs, and negotiating contracts.

This isn't the first time a major tech company has taken legal action against a former employee. In 2018, IBM filed suit against its erstwhile Chief Diversity Officer Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, who left Big Blue to work in the same role at Microsoft.

And in 2005, one-time Microsoft exec Kai-Fu Lee became the subject of a fraught battle between Redmond and Google, over the terms of his hiring. That battle was resolved five months later with an undisclosed settlement between the two firms.

The court also noted: "The Court is especially aware that all but the most advantaged employees are unlikely to combat Amazon's broad claims. Amazon no doubt relishes its opportunity to exert pressure and control over its departing employees."

The judge rejected AWS's claim that it was likely to suffer irreparable harm by Moyer's move to Google.

Moyer is not a developer… the Court struggles to see how Moyer is likely to lead timely development of Google Cloud services to compete with AWS services that are already being developed.

First, the services may not even transfer to Google Cloud’s current offerings.

Second, it may not be possible to develop competing services within Google Cloud’s framework.

Third, Google Cloud is presumably already planning its own services to seek what it expects to be its own competitive advantage.

The full ruling is available here (PDF).

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