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Timing is Everything; Intel/Apple

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When Intel Corp. disclosed yesterday two key executive losses, one of them caught the company flat-footed, and it could be a concern simply because of its timing.

Pat Gelsinger, who was one of the company's best known execs, once running R&D and most recently the company's Digital Enterprise Group, Intel's biggest division, is leaving for the president and COO job at EMC. Gelsinger, who joined Intel in 1979, was passed over for the CEO's job which went to Paul Otellini instead, was said to be looking for a top post somewhere else since that decision. Pat's one of Intel's top assets, but his departure, despite such a long tenure at Intel , wasn't much of a surprise.

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Not so with Bruce Sewell, Intel's top corporate attorney.

He's leaving the company just as its appeal of a massive European Union case gain momentum. And where he's going might signal his new employer's emphasis on potential governmental legal issues: Apple announced earlier this morning that Sewell is coming to Cupertino.

Sewell has been leading Intel's fight with the EU, some say rather effectively, with investigators first finding the company guilty of strong-arming customers and consumers into buying Intel chips, and now on its heels because of an ombudsman discovery of prosecutorial misconduct.

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Intel filed its most detailed response yet to the EU's case late last week, formally appealing the $1.45 billion fine claiming simply that regulators failed to prove its case that consumers were harmed by its behavior. Look at Moore's Law and Intel seems to have a point: Chip power doubles roughly every 18 months while prices get cut in half. Sewell and team have always made the argument that Moore's Law alone should show Intel's penchant for innovation and competition in the marketplace and not predatory, anti-competitive behavior.

While Sewell lost the EU case, he has been largely effective in keeping Intel's anti-predatory message alive, and fending off various legal hand grenades lobbed by rival Advanced Micro Devices . He was quite a busy employee with pending anti-trust cases in Japan, South Korea, the State of New York, and the Federal Trade Commission. Intel's obviously got a deep legal bench, but Sewell's departure is a key loss.

His arrival at Intel customer Apple Inc. shows Apple's new emphasis on addressing various federal investigations of its own. The FCC is examining Apple's decision to delay Google's Voice application from the Apple App Store, and another federal investigation into both Apple and Google that the two companies shared board members despite their competitive positions in software and smart phones. (Google CEO Eric Schmidt stepped down from Apple's board, but former Genentech CEO Arthur Levinson still serves on both; and former Vice President Al Gore serves on Apple's board and is also a top advisor to Schmidt.)

Sewell's acumen in navigating the legal departments of various federal authorities could be enormously valuable to Apple, especially now, and his loss at Intel, particularly now, will be felt. It's a top notch hire for Apple, and timing truly is everything, for both Apple and Intel. Apple, good; Intel, not so much.

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