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Steve Jobs' threats to Palm over employee poaching revealed

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs did not take kindly to having his employees poached by tech rivals, and threatened competitors with patent suits if they didn't stand down, according to court documents.

In a filing with a California district court, Edward Colligan, former president and CEO of Palm, said that Jobs contacted him by phone in 2007 to demand that he stop hiring away Apple employees. In return, Apple would extend Palm the same courtesy.

"Mr. Jobs also suggested that if Palm did not agree to such an arrangement, Palm could face lawsuits alleging infringement of Apple's many patents," Colligan said.

The filing is part of a case first filed in 2011 that accused Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm, and Pixar of agreeing to a pact whereby they would not hire away each others' workers without permission. The plaintiffs claimed such agreements allowed the Silicon Valley companies to keep workers' wages low by stifling competition for the most sought-after workers.

Colligan attached an email he sent to Jobs in August 2007, in which he told the late Apple exec that his idea was "likely illegal."

"We can't dictate where someone will work, nor should we try," Colligan wrote. "I can't deny people who elect to pursue their livelihood at Palm the right to do so simply because they now work for Apple, and I wouldn't want you to do that to current Palm employees."

"At the end of the day, it is their choice, and a choice we should respect."

Colligan did hit back at Jobs, however, arguing that Apple essentially hired two per cent of Palm's workforce. "To put it in perspective, had Palm done the same, we'd have hired 300 folks from Apple. Instead, to my knowledge, we've hired just three."

Threatening Palm with a patent suit is "out of line," Colligan continued, and would "create unnecessary distractions."

"I want to be clear that we are not intimidated by your threat," Colligan concluded.

Jobs responded two days later with a very Jobsian opening line: "This is not satisfactory to Apple."

Jobs accused Palm of "actively" recruiting Apple employees "using knowledge supplied" by Jon Rubinstein, former CEO of Palm, and Fred Anderson, Apple's former CFO who was hired away by Palm, "with Jon personally participating in the recruiting process."

"We must do whatever we can to stop this," Jobs wrote, before concluding that Colligan should "take a look at our patent portfolio before you make a final decision."

Colligan said he did not have any contact with Jobs after that email; "Palm continued to hire employees from Apple."

The companies named in the suit tried unsuccessfully to have the case dropped. Judge Lucy Koh ruled in August 2012 that it is "reasonable to infer that such significant policies would have to be approved at the highest levels," and allowed the case to continue.

Last week, Judge Koh ordered the deposition of current Apple CEO Tim Cook as a part of the antitrust case.

Palm, of course, was purchased by HP in April 2010 for $1.2 billion. By August 2011, however, Palm announced that it would discontinue support for webOS devices, including its TouchPad tablet. Ultimately, HP decided to make webOS open source; last year, there were reports that HP's webOS Global Business Unit (GBU) will be reborn as a new company known as Gram.

Jobs, meanwhile, never met a confrontation he didn't like, and was no shrinking violet when it came to battling with rivals and those with whom he disagreed.