On November 6, 2008, Judge Kenneth Karas of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted preliminary injunctive relief to IBM and ordered that a former executive, Mark Papermaster, refrain from working for Apple. 

According to IBM’s Complaint, Papermaster worked for IBM as a member of the Company’s elite Integration and Values Team, which has a hand in developing corporate strategy. On June 21, 2006, Papermaster executed a Noncompetition Agreement with IBM that forbids Papermaster from engaging in or associating with any competitors within the area for which Papermaster had job responsibilities at IBM. At the time of his resignation, Papermaster served as IBM’s Vice President for a unit that designs and delivers servers using “blade” technology.   

Papermaster announced his intent to resign on October 13, 2008. IBM made efforts to retain Papermaster, offering him a salary increase, as well as the possibility of a year’s salary in return for not competing against the company. Papermaster declined these offers and resigned from employment with IBM on October 21, 2008. Papermaster set his last day of employment as October 24, 2008. Upon joining Apple, Papermaster was slated to become the Senior Vice President for Devices Hardware Engineering. According to Apple, Papermaster would supervise the development of iPods and iPhones in this position.

On October 22, 2008, IBM sued Papermaster in the Southern District of New York, and filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction two days later. In the Complaint, IBM asserts that Papermaster breached the terms of the Noncompetition Agreement and misappropriated trade secrets. IBM specifically alleges that it competes with Apple in three areas: servers, personal computers, and microprocessors. The Noncompetition Agreement contains an exclusive jurisdiction clause mandating that all actions under the Agreement take place in the state and federal courts for Westchester County, New York. 

Papermaster responded to IBM’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction with several arguments. Papermaster argued that Apple does not compete with IBM because Apple is in the consumer electronic products market, whereas IBM focuses on business systems such as servers and IT infrastructure. More specifically, Papermaster claimed that the needs of microprocessors for servers and consumer electronics are different, with the former emphasizing speed and the latter emphasizing efficient use of power. Papermaster also contended that IBM could not show that it faced irreparable injury because it permitted Papermaster to continue to work for IBM and access its confidential information for two weeks after Papermaster stated his intention to resign. If Papermaster was privy to so much IBM confidential information and represented such a competitive threat, the argument goes, then why was he permitted to remain employed by IBM with unfettered access to its various systems and facilities after announcing his intention to join Apple?

Papermaster also argued that injunctive relief was inappropriate because the Noncompetition Agreement was unenforceable as written for two reasons. First, Papermaster offered that the Agreement was overbroad in that it purported to prevent him for working for a competitor, regardless of whether his acts were actually competitive. Second, Papermaster contended that the one-year time period covered by the non-compete provision was an “eternity” in the electronics industry and thus should not be considered reasonable under the circumstances. Third, Papermaster asserted that the agreement was overbroad because IBM claimed that the Agreement purported to cover the entire world. Papermaster further asserted in a footnote that because Papermaster lives in Texas and works in California, New York law should not govern the dispute, but it acknowledged that it did not have the space to fully develop this argument.  You can find IBM’s reply brief here.

Although Judge Karas granted IBM’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction at the conclusion of the November 6, 2008 hearing, in the entry for the case on the Court’s docket, Judge Karas sets forth that an Opinion will follow. Until such time, it is unclear which arguments the Court found persuasive.  The case nonetheless continues.  At present, the parties are litigating the issue of the amount of a bond to be paid by IBM to the Court.  It also is likely that the parties will now want to engage in expedited discovery, a topic that will be discussed in a November 18, 2008 court conference.