Google, Apple Stop Playing Board Games

Art Levinson's dual role prompted government inquiry

By Owen Thomas
|  Monday, Oct 12, 2009  |  Updated 3:12 PM EDT
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Andrea Vascellari on Flickr

Google and Apple won't be getting together anytime soon.

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Google and Apple seem to write their own rules in business. But Silicon Valley's twin monuments to innovation and hubris got a comedown Monday.

A board member shared by the two companies announced he was resigning effective immediately.

Art Levinson, chairman of Bay Area biotech giant Genentech, had served on Apple's board since August 2000 and Google's board since April 2004.

Five years ago, Apple and Google didn't have much to do with each other's business. But now, as Apple's iPhone wars with rivals running Google's Android operating system, the two are direct competitors -- a situation that didn't escape the attention of regulators at the Federal Trade Commission, who announced an inquiry into Google and Apple's board overlap.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the Associated Press that Levinson has been "a key part of Google's success these past five years" but didn't say why Levinson was leaving now.

It's a major embarassment for Schmidt, who just two weeks ago maintained that the companies were not direct competitors and that he hoped Levinson would stay on Google's board.

Schmidt himself left Apple's board earlier this year, after maintaining there was no need for him to quit his position. Google's announcement of a planned operating system for personal computers, Chrome OS, posed a more direct threat to Apple's core business of making hardware and software for personal computers.

The companies have also feuded publicly over Google Voice, a Web-based telephony app that Apple has not allowed onto iPhones.

While Levinson and Schmidt's departures would seem to remove the appearance of a conflict, in reality, Apple and Google still retain strong boardroom ties. Two Apple board members, former vice president Al Gore and Intuit chairman Bill Campbell, also serve as senior advisors to Google.

Google and Apple were recently caught maintaining a tacit, and possibly illegal, agreement not to recruit each other's employees. The real question should be how one tells them apart.

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