GE, Sony, Nvidia Part of Justice Dept.'s Tech-Hiring Probe

Photographer: Ronda Churchill/Bloomberg

Bravia televisions are displayed at the Sony Corp. booth during the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in this file photo. Close

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Photographer: Ronda Churchill/Bloomberg

Bravia televisions are displayed at the Sony Corp. booth during the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in this file photo.

The U.S. Justice Department has questioned General Electric Co., Sony Corp. and Nvidia Corp. as part of a probe into the technology industry’s recruiting and hiring practices, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Authorities are examining whether companies secretly agreed to not recruit or hire each other’s employees, an antitrust violation that could deprive workers of higher salaries, said the person, who requested anonymity.

The disclosure that officials at the three companies have been questioned indicates a wider investigation than was previously known publicly. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the investigation also involves Intel Corp., International Business Machines Corp., Google Inc., Apple Inc. and IAC/InteractiveCorp.

Collusion of this sort “would hurt the workers” and give consumers “fewer choices,” said Robert Lande, a law professor at the University of Baltimore. Besides depressing wages, such an agreement may stifle innovation, he said.

The Justice Department hasn’t determined whether any company violated the law, said the person familiar with the matter. Investigators are still following up on leads from their discussions with the firms and examining several time periods, the person said.

Declining Comment

Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Sony spokesman John Dolak, IBM spokesman Edward Barbini and Leslie Cafferty, a spokeswoman for IAC/InterActiveCorp, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

GE spokeswoman Anne Eisele, Nvidia spokesman Robert Sherbin, Google spokesman Andrew Pederson, Apple spokesman Steve Dowling and Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman, declined to comment.

The investigation expands the scrutiny of technology companies by President Barack Obama’s administration. The makeup of Google’s and Apple’s boards has drawn the attention of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, and the Justice Department has urged a federal judge to revise a settlement between copyright owners and Google over the company’s book-scanning project.

Technology companies often trade workers as they seek to lure the best talent and sometimes end up in conflict. In 2005, Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software maker, sued after Google lured away Kai-Fu Lee to run a development center in China. The companies settled the suit.

In January 2009, Apple and IBM resolved a three-month legal battle over the hiring of IBM executive Mark Papermaster as Apple’s engineering chief.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington jbliss@bloomberg.net.

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