Amazon Sues Former Exec Hired By Smartsheet, Hints That A Still-Secret Competitive Effort Is In the Works

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The lawsuit Amazon has filed against a former AWS employee bound by a non-compete agreement gives credence to a report earlier this year that the public cloud leader is developing its own cloud-based office collaboration software.

Amazon makes the argument to the King County Superior Court in Washington that its non-compete is actionable because it has a competitive product to Gene Farrell's new employer, document collaboration vendor Smartsheet. Amazon, in its court complaint, said it would only provide evidence of its product out of the purview of the public.

The lawsuit, filed Friday and first reported by tech news site GeekWire, claims Farrell accepted the job as head of product at Smartsheet, a Bellevue, Wash.-based software vendor, even though his non-compete agreement prevented him working for 18 months at a rival.

[Related: Snapchat, A Prominent Google Cloud Customer, Strikes A Deal With AWS]

Farrell is now in a position to share Amazon's cloud secrets, many of which he helped formulate, according to the legal complaint.

Smartsheet, founded in 2006, has historically been a large AWS customer and AWS even offers on its website a case study of Smartsheet's initial deployment on its infrastructure.

But the fast-growing Software-as-a-Service vendor is shifting at least some of its substantial infrastructure spend to HPE.

At the HPE Discover conference last week, HPE CEO Meg Whitman said Smartsheet has already moved some of its workloads to HPE's private cloud, seeking to buck a public cloud bill that was becoming "increasingly expensive."

Farrell started at AWS in 2012, and advanced over four years to the position of vice president of the enterprise applications & EC2 Windows team.

Smartsheet, in a statement, said the company carefully vetted his hire, and doesn't see itself in any way as a competitor to Amazon.

"We are also surprised by what we see as an enormous overreach in terms of how Amazon is defining productivity software as it relates to their competitive set," the statement said.

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