O. Contingencies and commitments
The company is involved in a variety of claims, demands, suits, investigations, tax matters and proceedings that arise from time to time in the ordinary course of its business, including actions with respect to contracts, intellectual property (IP), product liability, employment, benefits, securities, foreign operations and environmental matters. These actions may be commenced by a number of different parties, including competitors, partners, clients, current or former employees, government and regulatory agencies, stockholders and representatives of the locations in which the company does business.
The following is a summary of some of the more significant legal matters involving the company.
The company is a defendant in an action filed on March 6, 2003 in state court in Salt Lake City, Utah by The SCO Group (SCO v. IBM). The company removed the case to Federal Court in Utah. Plaintiff is an alleged successor in interest to some of AT&T’s Unix IP rights, and alleges copyright infringement, unfair competition, interference with contract and breach of contract with regard to the company’s distribution of AIX and Dynix and contribution of code to Linux. The company has asserted counterclaims, including breach of contract, violation of the Lanham Act, unfair competition, intentional torts, unfair and deceptive trade practices, breach of the General Public License that governs open source distributions, promissory estoppel and copyright infringement. In October 2005, the company withdrew its patent counterclaims in an effort to simplify and focus the issues in the case and to expedite their resolution. Motions for summary judgment were heard in March 2007, and the court has not yet issued its decision. On August 10, 2007, the court in another suit, The SCO Group, Inc. v. Novell, Inc., issued a decision and order determining, among other things, that Novell is the owner of UNIX and UnixWare copyrights, and obligating SCO to recognize Novell’s waiver of SCO’s claims against IBM and Sequent for breach of UNIX license agreements. At the request of the court in SCO v. IBM, on August 31, 2007, each of the parties filed a status report with the court concerning the effect of the August 10th Novell ruling on the SCO v. IBM case, including the pending motions. On September 14, 2007, plaintiff filed for bankruptcy protection, and all proceedings in this case were stayed. In the SCO v. Novell case, on November 25, 2008, SCO filed its notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which included an appeal of the August 10, 2007 ruling.
On November 29, 2006, the company filed a lawsuit against Platform Solutions, Inc. (PSI) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that PSI violated certain intellectual property rights of IBM. PSI asserted counterclaims against IBM. On January 11, 2008, the court permitted T3 Technologies, a reseller of PSI computer systems, to intervene as a counterclaim-plaintiff. T3 claims that IBM violated certain antitrust laws by refusing to license its patents and trade secrets to PSI and by tying the sales of its mainframe computers to its mainframe operating systems. On June 30, 2008, IBM acquired PSI. As a result of this transaction, IBM and PSI dismissed all claims against each other, and PSI withdrew a complaint it had filed with the European Commission in October 2007 with regard to IBM. Litigation between the company and T3 continues. In January 2009, T3 filed a complaint with the European Commission alleging that IBM violated European Commission competition law based on the facts alleged in the pending U.S. litigation.
The company is a defendant in an action filed on March 16, 2007 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas by SuperSpeed LLC, which alleges that certain IBM products infringe five patents relating generally to cache coherency techniques. SuperSpeed seeks damages and injunctive relief. The case is set for trial in June 2009.
The company and certain of its subsidiaries are defendants in an action filed on August 17, 2007 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas by JuxtaComm Technologies, Inc., which alleges that certain IBM products infringe a patent relating to the transformation and exchange of data between different computer systems. JuxtaComm seeks damages and injunctive relief. The case is set for trial in November 2009.
In October 2003, a purported collective action lawsuit was filed against IBM in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California by 10 former IBM employees alleging, on behalf of themselves and allegedly similarly situated former employees, that the company engaged in a pattern and practice of discriminating against employees on the basis of age when it terminated employees, both in connection with reductions in force and individualized determinations (Syverson v. IBM). Initially, the District Court dismissed the lawsuit on the basis of release agreements signed by all the plaintiffs. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court’s finding that the release barred these claims, and in January 2007, after denial of IBM’s petition for rehearing, the matter was returned to the trial court for further proceedings. On October 3, 2007, the court dismissed with prejudice plaintiffs’ claim for relief under the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, and dismissed with leave to amend plaintiffs’ claim asserting disparate impact age discrimination with respect to individualized terminations. On November 6, 2007, plaintiffs filed a Third Amended Complaint, amending the disparate impact claim. IBM filed its answer on November 26, 2007. On January 29, 2009, the case was dismissed with prejudice.
In January 2004, the Seoul District Prosecutors Office in South Korea announced it had brought criminal bid-rigging charges against several companies, including IBM Korea and LG IBM (a joint venture between IBM Korea and LG Electronics, which has since been dissolved, effective January, 2005) and had also charged employees of some of those entities with, among other things, bribery of certain officials of government-controlled entities in Korea and bid rigging. IBM Korea and LG IBM cooperated fully with authorities in these matters. A number of individuals, including former IBM Korea and LG IBM employees, were subsequently found guilty and sentenced. IBM Korea and LG IBM were also required to pay fines. Debarment orders were imposed at different times, covering a period of no more than a year from the date of issuance, which barred IBM Korea from doing business directly with certain government-controlled entities in Korea. All debarment orders have since expired and when they were in force did not prohibit IBM Korea from selling products and services to business partners who sold to government-controlled entities in Korea. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice and the SEC have both contacted the company in connection with this matter. In March 2008, the company received a request from the SEC for additional information.
On March 27, 2008, the company was temporarily suspended from participating in new business with U.S. Federal government agencies. The notice of temporary suspension was issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and related to an investigation by the EPA of possible violations of the Procurement Integrity provisions of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy Act regarding a specific bid for business with the EPA originally submitted in March 2006. In addition, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia served the company and certain employees with grand jury subpoenas related to the bid, requesting testimony and documents regarding interactions between employees of the EPA and certain company employees. On April 4, 2008, the company announced an agreement with the EPA that terminated the temporary suspension order. In January 2009, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia confirmed that it was closing its investigation and would bring no charges in this matter. The company is continuing to cooperate with the EPA.
The company is a defendant in a civil lawsuit brought in Tokyo District Court by Tokyo Leasing Co., Ltd., which seeks to recover losses that it allegedly suffered after IXI Co., Ltd. initiated civil rehabilitation (bankruptcy) proceedings in Japan and apparently failed to pay Tokyo Leasing amounts for which Tokyo Leasing now seeks to hold IBM and others liable. The claims in this suit include tort and breach of contract.
The company is a defendant in numerous actions filed after January 1, 2008 in the Supreme Court for the State of New York, county of Broome, on behalf of hundreds of plaintiffs. The complaints allege numerous and different causes of action, including for negligence and recklessness, private nuisance and trespass. Plaintiffs in these cases seek medical monitoring and claim damages in unspecified amounts for a variety of personal injuries and property damages allegedly arising out of the presence of groundwater contamination and vapor intrusion of groundwater contaminants into certain structures in which plaintiffs reside or resided, or conducted business, allegedly resulting from the release of chemicals into the environment by the company at its former manufacturing and development facility in Endicott. These complaints also seek punitive damages in an unspecified amount.
The company is party to, or otherwise involved in, proceedings brought by U.S. federal or state environmental agencies under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), known as “Superfund,” or laws similar to CERCLA. Such statutes require potentially responsible parties to participate in remediation activities regardless of fault or ownership of sites. The company is also conducting environmental investigations, assessments or remediations at or in the vicinity of several current or former operating sites globally pursuant to permits, administrative orders or agreements with country, state or local environmental agencies, and is involved in lawsuits and claims concerning certain current or former operating sites.
The company is also subject to ongoing tax examinations and governmental assessments in various jurisdictions. Along with many other U.S. companies doing business in Brazil, the company is involved in various challenges with Brazilian authorities regarding non-income tax assessments and non-income tax litigation matters. These matters principally relate to claims for taxes on the importation of computer software. The total amounts related to these matters are approximately $2.0 billion, including amounts currently in litigation and other amounts. In November 2008, the company won a significant case in the Superior Chamber of the federal administrative tax court in Brazil and is awaiting the published decision of the case. Assuming this decision is upheld, the remaining total potential amount related to these matters for all applicable years is approximately $500 million. In addition, the company has received an income tax assessment from Mexican authorities relating to the deductibility of certain warranty payments. In response, the company has filed an appeal in the Mexican Federal Fiscal court. The total potential amount related to this matter for all applicable years is approximately $450 million. The company believes it will prevail on these matters and that these amounts are not meaningful indicators of liability.
In accordance with SFAS No. 5, “Accounting for Contingencies,” (SFAS No. 5), the company records a provision with respect to a claim, suit, investigation or proceeding when it is probable that a liability has been incurred and the amount of the loss can be reasonably estimated. Provisions related to income tax matters are recorded in accordance with FIN 48. Claims and proceedings are reviewed at least quarterly and provisions are taken or adjusted to reflect the impact and status of settlements, rulings, advice of counsel and other information pertinent to a particular matter. Any recorded liabilities including any changes to such liabilities for the year ended December 31, 2008, were not material to the Consolidated Financial Statements. Based on its experience, the company believes that the damage amounts claimed in the matters previously referred to are not a meaningful indicator of the potential liability. Claims, suits, investigations and proceedings are inherently uncertain and it is not possible to predict the ultimate outcome of the matters previously discussed. While the company will continue to defend itself vigorously in all such matters, it is possible that the company’s business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows could be affected in any particular period by the resolution of one or more of these matters.
Whether any losses, damages or remedies finally determined in any such claim, suit, investigation or proceeding could reasonably have a material effect on the company’s business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows will depend on a number of variables, including the timing and amount of such losses or damages; the structure and type of any such remedies; the significance of the impact any such losses, damages or remedies may have on the Consolidated Financial Statements; and the unique facts and circumstances of the particular matter which may give rise to additional factors.
The company’s extended lines of credit to third-party entities include unused amounts of $4,403 million and $3,702 million at December 31, 2008 and 2007, respectively. A portion of these amounts was available to the company’s business partners to support their working capital needs. In addition, the company has committed to provide future financing to its clients in connection with client purchase agreements for approximately $3,342 million and $3,654 million at December 31, 2008 and 2007, respectively. The change over the prior year is due to increased signings of long-term IT infrastructure arrangements in which financing is committed by the company to fund a client’s future purchases from the company.
The company has applied the provisions of FIN 45, “Guarantor’s Accounting and Disclosure Requirements for Guarantees, Including Guarantees of Indebtedness of Others,” to its agreements that contain guarantee or indemnification clauses. These provisions expand those required by SFAS No. 5, by requiring a guarantor to recognize and disclose certain types of guarantees, even if the likelihood of requiring the guarantor’s performance is remote. The following is a description of arrangements in which the company is the guarantor.
The company is a party to a variety of agreements pursuant to which it may be obligated to indemnify the other party with respect to certain matters. Typically, these obligations arise in the context of contracts entered into by the company, under which the company customarily agrees to hold the other party harmless against losses arising from a breach of representations and covenants related to such matters as title to assets sold, certain IP rights, specified environmental matters, third-party performance of nonfinancial contractual obligations and certain income taxes. In each of these circumstances, payment by the company is conditioned on the other party making a claim pursuant to the procedures specified in the particular contract, which procedures typically allow the company to challenge the other party’s claims. Further, the company’s obligations under these agreements may be limited in terms of time and/or amount, and in some instances, the company may have recourse against third parties for certain payments made by the company.
It is not possible to predict the maximum potential amount of future payments under these or similar agreements due to the conditional nature of the company’s obligations and the unique facts and circumstances involved in each particular agreement. Historically, payments made by the company under these agreements have not had a material effect on the company’s business, financial condition or results of operations.
In addition, the company guarantees certain loans and financial commitments. The maximum potential future payment under these financial guarantees was $50 million and $23 million at December 31, 2008 and 2007, respectively. The fair value of the guarantees recognized in the Consolidated Statement of Financial Position is not material.