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Motorola sues Intel over PowerPC secrets

Motorola files suit, accusing the rival semiconductor maker and a former Motorola executive of misappropriating trade secrets.

Motorola has filed a lawsuit against Intel claiming that the world's largest chip company is depleting its PowerPC chip design center of engineers and intellectual property.

Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector filed a lawsuit yesterday against Intel and a former Motorola executive alleging "actual and threatened misappropriation of trade secrets," according to the lawsuit.

"This is a concerted, predatory approach, pirating away key designers and Motorola intellectual property," said Ken Phillips, a Motorola spokesperson in Austin, Texas.

Intel denies this. "After a preliminary analysis of the lawsuit, we deny that we have improperly attempted to recruit employees from Motorola and we plan to vigorously defend ourselves," said Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesperson.

Motorola alleges that Intel hired away "at least" 15 engineers that design PowerPC chips at the Somerset design center in Austin. The center was a joint venture between IBM and Motorola for seven years but is now controlled by Motorola after IBM pulled out in June of 1998. Motorola designs PowerPC processors for the Apple Macintosh computer and other markets such as communications equipment. (See related article.)

Motorola says Intel hired Mark McDermott, the head of Somerset. "Then, 10 days later Intel said it would open a microprocessor design center in Austin. Right down the road," said Phillips.

The suit was filed in state district court in Austin. The lawsuit alleges that "McDermott's intimate knowledge of the Somerset organization has allowed Intel to target key individuals with Motorola trade secrets. Motorola is asking the court to grant an injunction preventing Intel from placing any of Motorola's former employees in jobs where they will inevitably disclose Motorola's trade secrets."

"Our action is being taken for one reason-?to protect Motorola's intellectual property, which is the company's lifeblood," said Billy Edwards, corporate vice president and director of strategic management and planning for Motorola SPS in a statement.

"Our Somerset unit is the epicenter of high speed microprocessor design and development at Motorola and we are seeking to prevent the misappropriation of our valuable intellectual property that is crucial in this highly competitive market."

The fate of the PowerPC processor in markets such as the Apple Macintosh computer is already in question due to IBM's slow retreat and its renewed focus on its own internal server computers--not the Macintosh.