Judge: Former IBM Executive Can Work at Dell

A U.S. judge on Friday denied an IBM request that would have barred a former executive from working at Dell over concerns that he would misappropriate trade secrets.

The judge, Stephen Robinson, cleared David Johnson to continue working as Dell's senior vice president of strategy after IBM accused him of violating a noncompete agreement.

Johnson was previously IBM's vice president of corporate development and was hired by rival Dell last month. He worked at IBM for 27 years, during which he directed the company's mergers and acquisitions strategy.

IBM did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

According to a court document, IBM in 2005 required executives to sign noncompete agreements to continue receiving equity benefits. Johnson didn't agree with certain conditions in the noncompete agreement, so he signed the document on the wrong line. Johnson said that IBM discovered that the signature wasn't properly executed and sent him a new noncompete agreement, which he never signed.

In a court filing, IBM alleged that Johnson had indeed signed a noncompetition agreement. However, the court said that IBM's case wasn't strong enough and that its actions raised significant doubts as to whether Johnson had entered into the noncompete agreement.

The judge also said that Johnson didn't have access to IBM trade secrets. "The Court ... believes that IBM has overstated its case. Mr. Johnson does not have the sort of information that is considered quintessential trade secret information--detailed technical know-how, formulae, designs, or procedures," Robinson wrote. In addition, Johnson could suffer great hardship if the court enforced the agreement, the judge wrote.

IBM argued that Johnson could hurt the company because he has knowledge of the "most sensitive confidential strategic information," according to the filing.

Dell declined to comment.

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