IBM employee poaching suit hypes Apple

'The Powermaster must be stopped'


Mark Papermaster is a Power microprocessor God - a Powermaster, if you will - and must not enter Apple's paradise. He could make miracles happen there and screw IBM's competitive positioning.

That's the gist of an IBMer's filing in the IBM-Papermaster lawsuit in which IBM is trying to have Papermaster's move to Apple stopped.

Mark Papermaster is a long-term IBM staffer who was recently recruited by Apple for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (as he saw it) involving more or less taking charge of Apple's technical direction and advising Apple CEO Steve Jobs directly.

At IBM, he has worked for the last two years on its BladeCenter server line and before that had intimate knowledge of IBM's Power microprocessor architecture and technology. As the scope of his new position became clear, alarm bells went off at IBM as people there became convinced he was breaking the terms of a non-compete clause in his departure arrangements.

IBM sued him for breaking the non-compete agreement and filed various documents to support its case with a hearing scheduled for November 18th. Amongst these is one from Rodney Adkins, IBM's SVP for development and marketing in its Systems and Technology group where Papermaster worked. Adkins was Papermaster's mentor and ultimate boss.

His document says that IBM believes that Apple's employment of the Powermaster would cause it irreparable harm, place it at an extreme competitive disadvantage and cause it irreparable injury. It sounds almost hysterical.

We suppose this means Apple could develop better processors than IBM for servers, PCs, iPhones, and games consoles. Yes, Adkins mentioned games consoles.

Adkins says Papermaster is - was - IBM's top expert on the Power architecture. Apple bought Power microprocessor licensee P.A. Semi in April, and Papermaster is privy to more Power MPU secrets than P.A. Semi. The man is clearly a Power architecture God.

Adkins and IBM fear that Apple will use a Powermaster-boosted P.A. Semi unit to develop chips for Xserve servers, iMac desktops, MacBook notebooks, iPhones, and iPods that will compete with and beat IBM's System x and BladeCenter servers, Lenovo PCs, and IBM chips used in games consoles and iPhone competitors.

What IBM is saying is that Apple could throw out its Intel processors and substitute future P.A. Semi microprocessors using confidential IBM technical knowledge courtesy of Papermaster. These MPUs could then enable Apple to give IBM a good competitive thrashing.

The idea that Apple's Xserve line - an also-ran of an also-ran in the general server market, though much valued by its customers - could provide stiff competition to IBM's servers is almost risible. Adkins lets slip that IBM has a holding in Lenovo and even sells the odd PC so it can claim a boosted Mac could compete with X86 Lenovo PCs but really, are the Mac's prospects that good? Perhaps they are. Perhaps this filing is telling us to take Apple's prospects a whole lot more seriously.

The smartphone and intelligent handheld device areas look more serious from where we sit in terms of directly affecting IBM"s revenue prospects. There, Apple is doing amazingly well already.

What this filing tells us is that IBM has a terrific amount of respect for Apple's engineering smarts. IBM, capitalised at $104.7bn, thinks that Apple, capitalised at $79.3bn, could be even stronger competition, and that one man, this Powermaster, could make a huge difference to Apple's prospects. IBM wants to prevent this happening.

If the guy doesn't get the job at Apple, his CV has been boosted and general job prospects multiplied tenfold. Other people with experience of reporting direct to Steve Jobs might tell him that for IBM to succeed would be the best outcome. He'd get a better and more comfortable job than the one involving him reporting to the demanding Steve Jobs would ever be. ®

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