I.B.M. has sued one of its top executives in an attempt to prevent him from taking a position at Apple.

The company said that the executive, Mark Papermaster, who until last week had been manager in charge of the company’s blade server business, had signed a noncompete agreement with I.B.M. that would prevent him from accepting a job with a competitor until one year after leaving I.B.M.

The company said that Mr. Papermaster had been one of its top 300 managers and that he had access to a wide range of the company’s intellectual property and trade secrets.

Until leaving the company last week, Mr. Papermaster was vice president of I.B.M.’s Blade Development unit, an organization that sells computers for corporate data centers. In the past he has also headed technology development for the company and has played a major role in the design of its Power microprocessors.

Mr. Papermaster has also held other positions at I.B.M. Apple may also be interested in Mr. Papermaster’s processor design expertise. Earlier this year, Apple purchased PA Semi, a small microprocessor design firm that was developing microprocessors based on the I.B.M. Power design. At the time Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, said that Apple would use that expertise to create hardware for its iPhones and iPods.

Who thought there was anyone left at Big Blue worth headhunting?

  1. chrisbutts says:

    IBM’s blade business is quite successful actually…

    That being said I guess the question is, is Apple really a competitor to IBM? No one has Apple running on their corporate datacenter floor, and in talking with a lot of people think Apple’s server boxes suck.

  2. Kim Helliwell says:

    I bet Mr. Papermaster will prevail. I’m not a lawyer, but I once consulted one about noncompete clauses, and the upshot is that they are difficult to enforce. Further, IBM is not in the consumer computer biz any more, and Apple is not in the chip biz. So it’s hard to see how this violates any conceivable non compete clause.

    IBM might just be trying to harrass Papermaster or Apple (or both) and doesn’t really intend to press this to a conclusion.

  3. Jimbo says:

    And why would anybody let the cat out of the bag? Leave it up to IBM to find out for whom I’m going to work.

  4. QB says:

    IBM doesn’t care about winning this one. They do care about sending a message to their employees. It’s like the Hotel California there.

  5. Mac Guy says:

    Not surprising at all. He’d been given a position of trust within IBM, and he signed an agreement stating that he agreed to not go to the competition. These things are standard, and he should have known better. IBM must protect its trade secrets (and believe it or not, they do have plenty), and this is one of the ways it protects its investments.

    Sue him.

  6. hhopper says:

    What’s the big deal? He signed an agreement with IBM. He can wait a year and then go to work for Apple. It happens all the time in our local TV market.

  7. Don says:

    I don’t see where IBM has a leg to stand on. IBM does not make PC’s, laptops, mp3 players, mobile phones, or anything else that Apple sells. Apple does not compete with IBM at any level that I can see. Sounds like a clear case of harrasment to me.

    One of the few cases of me cheering for APPLE. I hope they counter sue with extreme prejudice.


  8. Chaunte says:

    I’m guessing Mac Guy isn’t a lawyer. Most of these non-competes are non-complete. A company can’t just tell an employee not to work for the competition, and then broadly and ambiguously define competition. Non-competes are limited by scope, time, geography, etc. IBM cannot bar Mr. Papermaster from his livelihood, there is a little thing called the 13th Amendment for God’s sake. Besides IBM has probably required the man to sign a non-disclosure agreement which is specifically used to protect trad secrets and other IP that remains confidential.

    Does anybody know if this case will be settled in CA of did IBM already determine which state’s laws apply? If Mr. Papermaster can beat IBM to a CA court and request a declaratory injunction he should enjoy some of the more progressive worker’s rights laws in the US. Good Luck Mr. Papermaster.

    Should be a fun case to watch…


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