Apple or IBM...?

Like you, I’m pre-occuppied by the election. But here’s an innovation-related dilemma for you. I’d be curious to read your opinions.

Have you been watching the drama between IBM and Apple, over Apple’s hire of Mark Papermaster as its new senior vice president of Devices Hardware Engineering, announced today? As the New York Times reported on Friday, IBM filed suit against Papermaster, a top IBM executive, alleging that he violated a noncompete agreement. The agreement states that Papermaster can’t join a competitor until a year has passed after he leaves IBM.

Apple says that Papermaster, who headed a division focused on corporate data center sales, will focus on iPhone and iPod hardware—which suggests his work doesn’t pose a conflict. As John Markoff observes in the Times, though, Apple does business in the corporate arena, too. And Papermaster, a former senior executive at Big Blue, would certainly have been exposed to many R & D projects at IBM during his tenure, meaning he could possibly leak them.

What does this lawsuit say about Apple? What does it say about IBM? Which is the more innovative company today—IBM, which mighty Apple is poaching talent from, or Apple, which is attracting the top talent away from the tech giant IBM? Are they really direct competitors? And what happens if you sign a non-compete agreement, and you want to fulfill a different role at a competitor? How would you navigate this situation as the new hire? As the hiring company? And how would forcing an employee with a track record of imaginative thinking to stay affect his or her enthusiasm for and loyalty to the original employer?