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Patents Government Microsoft The Courts News

Corporate Espionage Involving a Patent At Microsoft 241

Posted by kdawson
from the balance-of-wrongdoing dept.
thefickler writes "Microsoft is taking a former employee, Miki Mullor, to court for securing a job at the company in order to steal information that would help with a patent infringement case he filed against PC makers Dell, HP, and Toshiba (in which Microsoft quickly became enmeshed). And while it appears that Mullor did the wrong thing, some pundits are asking: 'If you believed that your patent had been infringed, wouldn't you be tempted to do the same thing?'"
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Corporate Espionage Involving a Patent At Microsoft

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  • by ACK!! (10229) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @06:40AM (#26707441) Journal
    I mean I could easily go woo-hoo fighting the man here. I got it in me no doubts. But there is something in legal cases called the Discovery phase and its illegal during a discovery phase to conceal information requested by the court for a case. If he thought Microsoft had information that would have helped his case his lawyers should have asked for such info in the discovery phase and been done with it. The spy cloak and dagger stuff is for the movies and just fucks you over in the real world. If its true he pitched the idea before he was even hired, then don't try to keep working at the same company you are trying to sue. The counter-suit will be coming that is for sure. Easier than firing him. Sue him instead.
  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @06:47AM (#26707503) Journal

    No, but you can steal someone else's labor, by not paying them for the information they produced, or the metal car pieces they welded, or the floors they sweeped, or.....

    Theft of labor is a human rights violation and if a person does produce a new idea or item, and XYZ corporation takes that idea/item without compensation for the labor involved, a crime has been committed.

  • by skyphyr (1149207) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:18AM (#26707703) Homepage
    There's no evidence to demonstrate he did these things. So in order for us to assume he's guilty we have to also assume he's precognitive. It also describes it such that Microsoft "found" the evidence. That's got to be inadmissible, right? No chain of custody there it could just as easily be planted by them. Hope the trial has some evidence behind it as there's insufficient to point fingers either way, but more than enough doubt to clear him.
  • by Kindaian (577374) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:20AM (#26707709) Homepage

    If i recall correctly, MS can't claim such thing in the first place.

    If they tried to license the IP before contracting it, that is more then enough evidence that the IP in cause was pretty much disclosed and of the knowing of MS.

  • by John Allsup (987) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <euqsilahc.s>> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:35AM (#26707801) Homepage Journal

    If you make something material and someone steals it, you no longer have it. If you have information and somebody copies it, you still have your copy. You lose exclusivity as to who know that information, but that exclusivity is not a material thing and cannot be stolen (since the person who makes a copy does not gain that exclusivity.)

    Material and information are totally different and it's a real shame that lawmakers aren't clever enough to see something so simple. That or they are too busy collecting campaign funds.

  • Re:OH CRAP! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by expat.iain (1337021) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:48AM (#26707895)

    I suppose it all depends on what you see as being the "Right Thing". I would suggest that:

    • Mullor had been speaking to MS about licensing his idea.
    • MS turned down his offer.
    • MS subsequently are found to actually be using aforementioned item.
    • MS now seek a royalty free* license to continue what they have been doing.

    Now, in best Groklaw tradition, IANAL, however this seems to me that when it comes to fairness the guy might have been able to get similar information from 'dumpster diving' and certainly seems to have been vindicated. So what we're really seeing here is:

    • MS get caught with hand in cookie jar.
    • Individual seeks recompense from MS.
    • MS unleash the lawyers and counter sue for good measure.

    It would not surprise me if they try their old dirty tricks and try to put the US case on hold whilst they visit global MS friendly courtrooms to get some judgements onside in other jurisdictions just as they did with Lindows.

    Bastards.

  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:49AM (#26707899) Journal

    >>>If you have information and somebody copies it, you still have your copy.

    Well then I guess we should have kept those unpaid laborers in the South. After all, they didn't "lose" anything when they picked cotton all day. They still had all their material possessions (private hut, clothing, etcetera). The fact they labored for free is just a-okay, right?

    No.

    And neither is it okay for a modern-day "master" corporation to take man's labor without pay, whether that man picks cotton, or creates a schematic, or whatever. Their labor rights need to be protected. Example: Nobody wants to spend a year writing a book, just to see that book published by Microsoft, while the original author gets nothing. In such a case, MS is guilty of stealing a year of labor without pay.

  • by LingNoi (1066278) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:20AM (#26708091)

    yeah, those evil copyrights. They stop me from being able to sell GPL code without giving back the source. I hope they abolish copyright soon because it's so evil.

  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:22AM (#26708111) Journal

    A lot of the stuff I produce at work is intangible... just data inside a computer. Does that mean my employer can take my data, and not pay me? LOCKHEED: "Thank you. We downloaded the program off your c: drive using bittorrent last night. No we're not going to pay you for it."

    Hmmmm. Interesting worldview these young college teens and 20-somethings have.

  • Re:OH CRAP! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:33AM (#26708209) Journal

    The sequence of events you list sound similar to what happened with Babylon 5 producer J.Michael Straczynski (jms):

    - JMS had been speaking to Paramount about licensing his idea (1992).
    - Paramount turned down his offer, but kept all his season 1 scripts and bible.
    - Paramount subsequently are found to be using aforementioned ideas with a near-clone show called DS9.

    This happens all the time in the world of television and movies, and I'm not surprised to hear the same thing happens in other industries too. The problem is that it's nigh-impossible to win a court case unless you have emails & documents..... and that's what Mr. Mullor was trying to obtain.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:42AM (#26708285)

    Well then I guess we should have kept those unpaid laborers in the South. After all, they didn't "lose" anything when they picked cotton all day.

    They lost the cotton. The difference between tangible property and information is that if someone else takes your tangible property then you don't have it any more, and if someone takes information then both of you have it.

    Put another way: only one person can use a boll of cotton. An unlimited number of people can use an idea. Someone else using my idea does not preclude me also using it; Microsoft publishing a book I wrote does not preclude my also publishing it. It may make it impractical for me to profit from the book I wrote, but that falls under the category of "unfair competition," not "taking away a piece of property that I own." It's wrong, and it's also fundamentally different from stealing.

    The language of copyright holders - "own an idea," "intellectual property," "stolen ideas," "piracy," is calculated to make the public forget the fundamental differences between ideas and objects, and support laws and policies that equate intellectual property with physical property. This is to the benefit of copyright (and patent) holders, who can then rely on the government to bear the cost of enforcing their copyrights, among other benefits.

    The preponderance of people who claim that we have a "right" to "own" and profit from ideas shows how well this brainwashing is working. Apparently it goes so far as to make some think that a company can "steal" profits that haven't even been earned yet. The reality of intellectual property cases is quite different; see Polaroid v. Kodak. [nytimes.com]

  • by jonbryce (703250) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:52AM (#26708385) Homepage

    Slavery is not theft. That's why there is a different law to stop it.

  • by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus...slashdot@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:00AM (#26708495) Homepage Journal

    An unlimited number of people can use an idea.

    As an aside, the value of an idea can be destroyed when more people know it - this is why we have trade secret law.

    Someone else using my idea does not preclude me also using it; Microsoft publishing a book I wrote does not preclude my also publishing it. It may make it impractical for me to profit from the book I wrote, but that falls under the category of "unfair competition," not "taking away a piece of property that I own." It's wrong, and it's also fundamentally different from stealing.

    I'll never understand why Slashdot, primarily a group of code-authors are so willing to shoot themselves in the feet and claim that they have no property rights in their works.
    To your example, that we should use unfair competition tort law instead of trespass property law, I pose this easy hypothetical: Mr. A, with $10 to his name, "copies" your software. He then sells it to Microsoft for $100, and Microsoft publishes it as part of Windows, destroying your ability to sell it. Provided Microsoft can show reasonable ignorance of Mr. A's actions, you have no possible tort claim against them. Your only action in tort is against Mr. A, and the most you can recover is $100.
    Under property law, you'd have the right to exclude Microsoft from using your idea, same as you could kick Bill Gates off your lawn.

    The language of copyright holders - "own an idea," "intellectual property," "stolen ideas," "piracy," is calculated to make the public forget the fundamental differences between ideas and objects, and support laws and policies that equate intellectual property with physical property. This is to the benefit of copyright (and patent) holders, who can then rely on the government to bear the cost of enforcing their copyrights, among other benefits.

    The preponderance of people who claim that we have a "right" to "own" and profit from ideas shows how well this brainwashing is working.

    It's one of the few explicit powers of Congress in the Constitution, important enough that the Founders put it right there in Article I, Section 8. It's also an affirmation of a right that has existed for a few thousand years. The "I don't believe in intellectual property (in spite of making my living through its creation)" meme you're espousing is the new one, and yes, it does show just how well brainwashing works.

  • by furby076 (1461805) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:12AM (#26708627) Homepage

    In fact, if I invent something independently, and it turns out someone else has already patented that idea, then I cannot use my idea for profit, since that would infringe on the patent. But I have certainly not stolen any labour - quite the opposite.

    What did you mean by "quite the opposite"? Did you mean opposite as in THEY stole the labor or opposite as you GAVE them something? Because if I did independent work on project A and you did independent work on Project B (both which coincidentally are the same), you doing your work is not stealing from me, but it is also not the "opposite".

    Even when a patent infringement is clearly a case of using someone else's idea, you still cannot call it stealing someone else's labour simply because that person/company MIGHT have made money from it. There's no guarantee that investing in an idea will pay itself back.

    You are correct that a new invention may not earn any money - but by taking someone's work, without their permission, you have denied that person the right to make a decision concerning their invention. For that there is penalties, and rightly so; it is unfair for people to reap benefits of someone elses work without their permission.

  • by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus...slashdot@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @10:56AM (#26710575) Homepage Journal

    Because the code itself is not how we make a living. We make a living solving problems, not with copyright on stagnant works. A carpenter makes his living as much with his hammer as I do with code. It won't do anything without someone skilled operating it.

    Can I have all your code for free, then? Since I'm not a "skilled operator", I wouldn't be impacting your business, even if I give it out free to your customers, right?

"'Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true." -- Poloniouius, in Willie the Shake's _Hamlet, Prince of Darkness_

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