Big Tech's Tug Of War

As if tech companies weren't putting enough people out of work, IBM's ( IBM) now letting jealousy keep qualified employees from getting new jobs.

Mark Papermaster, recently appointed as Apple's ( AAPL) iPod and iPhone engineering chief, was ordered to stop working by a federal court judge last Friday amid a breach-of-contract dispute with IBM. Big Blue sued Papermaster after he handed in his notice last month, alleging that he breached a noncompete agreement.

Under the terms of the agreement, Papermaster, who spent 26 years at IBM, cannot work for a competitor for up to a year after his IBM employment ends. Judge Kenneth Karas of New York's Southern District will hear the case on Nov. 18.

It all comes down to whether Apple and IBM are direct competitors. Simple enough to figure out -- when was the last time you downloaded a song or sent a text message from an IBM device? Case closed.

That is, in fact, Papermaster's defense. In a court declaration, he said that aside from a few isolated cases, "I do not recall a single instance of Apple being described as a competitor of IBM during my entire tenure at IBM."

At The Five Dumbest Lab, we accept Papermaster's recollection.

In fact, we're not sure International Business Machines Corp. really makes that many machines anymore. The company sold its personal computer business to Lenovo in 2005 in order to concentrate on hawking so-called "systems" and "solutions," and the "hardware" division accounted for only 17% of revenue in the latest quarter.

IBM should drop the silly suit, lose the "M" from its name, and let the guy go to work.

Dumb-o-meter score: 65 -- On the other hand, Apple doesn't sell apples, does it?
Before joining, Gregg Greenberg was a writer and segment producer for CNBC's Closing Bell. He previously worked at FleetBoston and Lehman Brothers in their Private Client Services divisions, covering high net-worth individuals and midsize hedge funds. Greenberg attended New York University's School of Business and Economic Reporting. He also has an M.B.A. from Cornell University's Johnson School of Business, and a B.A. in history from Amherst College.

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