Google-Apple ties don’t end with Schmidt’s departure

By Ric Bohy

August 4, 2009 at 5:53am

Not all proverbs are proverbial. Yesterday, an Apple fell far from the tree.

After dismissing any perceived or real conflict of interest in serving both as CEO of Google and as a member of Apple’s board of directors, Eric Schmidt is stepping down from his branch on the Apple tree.

In a statement, Apple CEO Steve Jobs explained:

Eric has been an excellent Board member for Apple, investing his valuable time, talent, passion and wisdom to help make Apple successful. Unfortunately, as Google enters more of Apple’s core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS, Eric’s effectiveness as an Apple Board member will be significantly diminished, since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest. Therefore, we have mutually decided that now is the right time for Eric to resign his position on Apple’s Board.”

Eric Schmidt
Eric Schmidt

What Jobs’ release didn’t say is that Schmidt had it wrong in May, when he told reporters before Google’s annual shareholders meeting that he didn’t consider Apple to be a “primary competitor,” and any inquiry into his dual roles would find nothing improper.

But just a week ago, raw material for such a probe followed Apple’s decision to pull Google Voice from its iPhone App Store.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether Google’s ties to Apple – Schmidt, for example – puts the blocks to competition. Because AT&T is the wireless service provider for both Apple’s iPhone and Blackberry’s new smartphones, for which Google Voice is still available, the FTC has asked for more information about AT&T’s role in Apple’s decision making.

Although Schmidt has left the Apple board, biotechnology company Genentech’s Arthur Levinson continues to serve on both the Apple and Google boards, and as chairman of the Genentech board.

He assumed that role after being unseated as Genentech CEO, a result of its recent takeover by healthcare giant Roche. Roche named Pascal Soriot, commercial operations boss of its pharmaceutical division, as Genentech’s new chief operating officer.

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