Reuters reports that the Antitrust Division at the U.S. Department of Justice wants to know if high tech firms colluded in their hiring practices.
None of the targets — including Google, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, and Genentech — has posted a press release. But Reuters quotes a Genentech statement:
Our understanding is that a number of companies received this request for information from the U.S. Department of Justice. Genentech is cooperating and will respond to the request in due course.
The news agency adds that Google and Yahoo said the AD contacted them and that they would cooperate.
What can we make of the little info we have? At least two things, Blawgletter thinks:
- Technology outfits compete for the best engineers, scientists, and other scarce high-skill people. A pact to limit that competition would likely violate section 1 of the Sherman Act.
The AD under new chief Christine Varney can hardly wait to detect and undo cartels that have sprung up during the last several years of less-than-superhuman enforcement of antitrust law.
Some Silicon Valley types cite how often top talent has leapt from one place to another. But we wonder whether the facts bear that out. California law casts a gauzy eye on noncompetes and claims of trade secret theft, and we've heard more than once that the ease of stealing employees in the Golden State has helped start-ups and others rush new products to market. That comes close to sounding like a motive for collusion.
The AD's Manual says of civil investigative demands that they "are the compulsory process tool of choice in civil antitrust investigations of potential violations of the Sherman Act".
But let's not prejudge anything. Let's watch how this early move plays out.