Cisco to HP: Please Stop Suing Those Employees We Poach
Networking giant Cisco Systems would like to stop hearing so often from lawyers at rival Hewlett-Packard. More specifically, it would like HP to stop suing ex-HP employees seeking jobs at Cisco.
In a Cisco blog post, the company’s general counsel, Mark Chandler, accused HP of overzealously lawyering up to try to stop former HP employees from going to work for Cisco. The fear is that those former employees will share HP’s confidential information to Cisco’s benefit. “Trade secrets are protected by intellectual property laws, not by non-compete agreements and vague theories that a new job would ‘inevitably’ cause an employee to use trade secrets of his or her former employer,” Chandler helpfully reminded HP’s legal team.
Courts in California have generally held the kind of noncompete agreement that would prevent someone leaving HP for Cisco, or vice versa, to be unenforceable. But one of the people in question used to work for HP in Texas, and moved to California for the Cisco job. HP lawyers, Chandler says, swooped into a courtroom in Texas hours before a related hearing in California (the point being that the court that hears the case first is the one that tends to decide the case).
Chandler doesn’t name the employees involved, but that Texas-to-California move sounds an awful lot like the case of Paul Perez, the former CTO of HP’s StorageWorks, who resigned earlier this month for a job at Cisco; John Marsh, at the Ohio law firm of Hahn Loeser, writes about the case here.
I asked HP for a comment on this, and they haven’t gotten back to me. However, HP is not the only one with aggressive lawyers trying to enforce noncompetes. A federal appeals court recently ruled in favor of HP and an executive it had hired earlier this year from IBM. Giovanni “John” Visentin, who had been a general manager, quit his job at IBM in January and said he was going to HP, but offered to stay on for a transitional period. IBM sued him the next day, and asked the court for an injunction that would have prevented him from taking the job. The trial judge and the appeals court both ruled that IBM’s aggressive behavior made the “emergency” its lawyers said existed worse by its refusal to even talk to the employee.
Chandler closes his post with a promise that the company “will apply California’s rule in favor of employee mobility nationwide,” which is a comfort should you be mulling a job offer from Cisco and work at a rival outfit.
And though the circumstances are different, Cisco is not without its own history of over-aggressive lawyers, as in the infamous case of Peter Adekeye, a former Cisco employee who started his own company servicing Cisco gear; Ars Technica covered the case here. Having filed an antitrust suit against Cisco in the U.S., Adekeye wound up arrested and detained in a Canadian jail. A judge there finally let him out, saying that the only “reasonable inference I can draw from the facts is that the criminal process was used to pressure the applicant (unsuccessfully) into abandoning his antitrust lawsuit against Cisco.”
When it comes to ex-employees, lawyers tend to get really tough.
Update: Like I said, the Adekeye case is different circumstances, and as a Cisco spokesman points out in the comments below, Adekeye is under indictment; though it’s been described as a “ridiculous” case, you sure can’t beat it for weird legal twists and turns.