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Monday, August 10, 2009, 04:30 am PT (07:30 am ET)

Apple, Google reportedly shared agreement to not poach employees

Apple and Google had an informal agreement not to recruit each others' workers while Eric Schmidt, the search engine's CEO, served on both boards, according to a new report.

While the agreement was not written, it was considered protocol in Google's recruitment division, sources told TechCrunch. The alleged agreement between the two companies may have sparked an antitrust investigation from the U.S. Justice Department.

Whether the unofficial rule is still in place is uncertain. Earlier this month, Schmidt stepped down from the Apple Board of Directors, citing Google's encroachment into the Mac-maker's core businesses with Android and Chrome OS. Sources told TechCrunch that it's possible that Schmidt's resignation may have signaled the end of the agreement.

"To be clear, this unwritten agreement was that Google would not go after Apple employees, and vice versa," the report states. "However, employees of both companies were free to apply to the other company on their own, we’re told. That’s a small, but important difference as the practice of going after other company’s talent, also known as “poaching”, is considered to be an important component of healthy competition in the market. That’s why the Justice Department is looking into it."

The report also includes an e-mail from Google's hiring department that states "Google has an agreement with Apple that we will not cold call their staff."

In recent weeks, trouble has developed between Google and Apple. Weeks ago, Apple rejected the Google voice application, and pulled two programs that used the Voice service from the App Store. Both Google and Apple have been talked to for an investigation from the Federal Communications Commission over the matter.

Prior to his resignation, Schmidt already had to recuse himself from board meetings that involved iPhone plans, many of which would clash with Google's own attempts to promote its Android mobile operating system. Though the Google executive was adamant that the two companies don't occupy the same markets, the Federal Trade Commission has been investigating the Apple-Google link for a possible violation of antitrust laws through unfair collaboration.