Cisco Rips HP For Suit Against Ship-Jumping Storage CTO

HP has made "desperate moves to lock up human capital" as employees seek to exit HP "amidst the chaos of executive turnover," said Mark Chandler, Cisco's general counsel, in a corporate blog post dated Nov. 23.

Chandler said has filed suit against three employees in the past two years to stop them from departing HP for new jobs at Cisco. Chandler added that HP has created an environment so contentious, that "it seems the corporate slogan could be changed from 'HP Invent' to 'HP Sue.'"

"As headhunters and other companies are flooded with resumes from HP employees seeking safe ground amidst the chaos of executive turnover, we can probably expect to see more desperate moves to lock up human capital," Chandler wrote. "In an unhappy work environment, it's a strange decision to try to achieve employee retention by litigation."

Chandler's post describes three unnamed former HP employees. The most recent of the cases Chandler mentions -- one he describes as happening "just last week" -- is believed to concern Paul Perez, the former chief technologist and vice president for HP's StorageWorks business who is heading to a new job as CTO of Cisco's Server Access Virtualization Technology Group.

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Neither HP or Cisco returned a CRN request for comment before Thanksgiving. Cisco confirmed to The Wall Street Journal, however, that that the executive Chandler references is indeed Perez.

The complaint against Perez, first reported on by the law industry magazine Law360 earlier this month, is Hewlett Packard Company v. Paul Perez, filed in the District Court of Harris County, Texas. Perez resigned from HP on Nov. 14, and also filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in California requesting a ruling that he be free to work at Cisco. HP, in turn, is suing Perez in hopes of enforcing a non-compete and non-disclosure agreement Perez is said to have signed.

According to Chandler's blog post, Cisco contacted HP in an effort to make Perez's transition voluntarily and "give further reassurance that the employee wouldn't even inadvertently leverage any HP confidential information."

Chandler's post suggests that a judge in Texas refused to proceed on HP's complaint against Perez, however, and a California judge hearing Perez's original complaint against HP has issued an order allowing Perez to begin work at Cisco. Neither HP or Cisco has otherwise confirmed details of either legal case.

According to Perez's HP bio, he'd been with the computing giant since 1984, when he was a PA-RISC microprocessor designer in HP's Systems Technology Operation business. He became vice president of server storage and networking development in HP's Industry Standard Servers business in 2003.

Cisco's Chandler notes that HP's action against Perez seems "ironic" because of a similar recent case that involved its hiring of former IBM employee Giovanni Visentin, a former general manager at IBM, by HP. That case, IBM v. Visentin, dated Feb. 16, 2011, ended with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denying IBM's request to block Visentin's move to HP.

"It's a sad day when great companies think they need to sue their own employees over and over again to stop them from bettering themselves in their chosen profession," Chandler wrote. "Some states allow this. No company is forced to take advantage of it. Ironically, HP itself, when it recently hired an IBM employee who was under non-compete, argued that protection of intellectual property should be the only goal and the non-compete should be invalidated."

The Perez contretemps is the latest flare-up in the ongoing war between HP and Cisco, whose once-friendly relationship soured into a contentious rivalry several years ago. This year alone, the two technology giants have publicly jousted over perceived market share gains in networking, strengths and weaknesses in routing and switching and data center products, and the departures of various VP-and-higher-level executives.

In his post, Chandler writes that HP's changes in leadership -- referring to the recent ouster of former Leo Apotheker and his replacement by new CEO Meg Whitman -- might make for a changed tone from HP regarding executive departures.

"We challenge HP, with new leadership deeply steeped in Silicon Valley's environment of mobility and opportunity, to step up and support employe freedom and stop suing employees just for leaving," Chandler wrote.