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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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  • 'If you believed that your patent had been infringed, wouldn't you be tempted to do the same thing?'

    Has the inanity and anti-logic of the patent system finally become so bad that peoples' basic judgement is now impaired. Has the concept of "Intellectual Property" so twisted the fragile mind of the commentators, and public at large, that we now must see it not only as a fundamental right [blogspot.com], but as (Paraphrasing DeValera) an institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law and morality.

    Personally, no, I don't see that a patent is so important that I should break not only the law, but also the trust and confidence other people have in me, simply to defend my rights to some obvious "invention". I may be a little behind the times here, but I can't say I would be overly tempted, no.

  • by drunkenoafoffofb3ta (1262668) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:41AM (#26707455) Journal
    AFAIK, He had this technology before joining MS

    He claims he revealed his patent when joining MS.

    MS claim they were allowed to nick his IP rights since he failed to reveal this when he joined the company (although they also tried to licence the technology prior to him joining)

    So the wrong thing was viewing some documents he shouldn't have? Not having your IP rights stolen, then.

  • Re:OH CRAP! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:59AM (#26707577) Journal

    Yeah, after all, it's not as if Microsoft ever steals other companies (cough Netscape, Corel) ideas or software, or been involved in U.S. or EU patent infringement cases and found guilty. I'm sure they are completely innocent with nothing to hide and would comply with a court order to turn-over information, rather than shred documents.

    Yep.

    The cops routinely use undercover "spying" in order to catch criminals, such as drug traffickers. I don't see why it's wrong to do the same in order to obtain documents prior to their shredding. It might have been smarter to hire a private P.I. (ala Matlock or Perry Mason) to do the dirty work, but otherwise I think you need to do what's necessary to catch the incriminating documents before they become confetti (or before the drugs get flushed down the toilet).

  • by yttrstein (891553) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:06AM (#26707613) Homepage
    I wish the truth reflected the reality.
  • Re:OH CRAP! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MrMr (219533) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:42AM (#26707853)
    Hm. I've asked myself that question when I first heard how http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Belluzzo [wikipedia.org] ran SGI...
  • by Trekologer (86619) <<adb> <at> <trekologer.net>> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:50AM (#26707901) Homepage

    According to the Ars Technica article (http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2009/02/espionage.ars), Mullor was a Program Manager in the Windows Security Group. It seems unlikely that he would all of a sudden later discover on chance that Microsoft was putting functionality into Windows that he (and his seemingly defunct company) has a patent that covers it. How is this different that Rambus not telling the standards body (that they were apart of) that SDRAM might infringe on their patents?

    I hate to say it but Microsoft might be in the right here. Not to mention that the patent is BS.

  • by Captain Splendid (673276) <capsplendid@gm3.1415926ail.com minus pi> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:11AM (#26708025) Homepage Journal
    After all, they didn't "lose" anything when they picked cotton all day.

    What a stupid thing to say. Those "cotton-pickers" did all their losing a loooooong time before they hit the field.
  • Re:kdawson (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:16AM (#26708053)
    It's interesting how this comment had 5+ (interesting) only 5 minutes ago, and now it's just -something troll, just out of the blue. Censure, or just a pissed off editor?
  • by wjsteele (255130) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:30AM (#26708193)
    It is such a shame to me that so many people don't even know the rights and freedoms granted in the United States Constitution.

    The "exclusivity" that people get from the discovery of a new idea is guaranteed in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution.

    "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

    It's that simple. It simply boggles my mind to see so many people who try to discount that. It's there for a reason. Inventors discoveries rightfully should be controlled by the inventor (for a period of time, which is usually 20 years.) There are checks in place that allow others to use those discoveries if the primary inventor does not maintain his "rights" by notifiying the USPTO they wish to do so via maintetance fees. There are also avenues in place to allow the inventor to gain from that discovery via various licensing models.

    And, yes, I am an inventor. I spent several years perfecting the technology I now have the patent on after my "inspirational moment" when I put two and two together. I also spent countless hours working on it trying to figure out all the ways in which my idea worked. I then filed the patent, disclosing all the vairous "embodiments" of my invention. If some of you got your ways, all that work and effort would not allow me to even recapture some of my investment.

    Someone said it, if that work was allowed to be copied by others without compensation, I in effect, would have done their work for them providing them countless hours of free labor. THAT IS WHY THE CONSTITUTION HAS ARTICLE I SECTION 8!!!

    Bill
  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @10:08AM (#26708591)

    "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

    Exactly; the difference between "exclusive right" and "ownership" is the difference between intellectual property and physical property. Using your patented idea without your permission is violating your exclusive right to that idea. It's not stealing the idea. Some people think the distinction is overly fine but I think it's critically important not to confuse control of an idea with ownership of physical property.

    If two people independently cut down trees and use the wood to build cabinets, each of them owns a cabinet. If two people independently come up with an idea, only one of them gets to patent it. So your "right" to get paid for "your labor" can result in your "stealing" the profits of the other guy, who thought of the same thing but applied for the patent one day later than you did. Does that seem right?

    Patents and copyrights serve useful purposes. But don't confuse them with physical property.

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @10:34AM (#26708993) Homepage

    Sorry commodore, but you need to look up "theft of labor" again. Copyright or patent infringement is not "theft of labor".

    Theft of labor is when you get someone do work by force or deception. If I tell you I'm going to pay you for a job when I have no intention of doing so, or if I make you do work for me at gunpoint, then that's theft of labor. If you've done work voluntarily and I've pulled benefit from that work, after the fact, without your permission, it's a different thing.

    In most cases, it's completely legal to benefit from someone else's intellectual work without the worker's permission. We've made copyright and patent law to protect two particular cases for particular reasons, but the concerns are different than of "theft of labor". Copyrights and patents are more concerned with protecting *investments*.

  • by Captain Splendid (673276) <capsplendid@gm3.1415926ail.com minus pi> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @10:36AM (#26709011) Homepage Journal
    I'll assume you'll say "no"

    And you'd be wrong.

    and ask for you to explain why it's necessary to pay people for picking cotton?

    Why yes, it's called contract law. Been around, like slavery for a long time.
  • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gnasher719 (869701) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:53AM (#26710507)

    If you've filed a patent, and you're about to sue someone I'm guessing generally actually you wouldn't seek employment at a company that is part of it. You know, what with it firstly being a completely transparent move, and secondly because you wouldn't be able to defend your patent when you're in jail for corporate espionage.

    But it wouldn't be corporate espionage. So he downloaded documents at work that he had access to as an employee, but that he wasn't supposed to download. As long as he doesn't pass them on or act on them, he can probably be fired, but not charged with anything. However, if the documents contain evidence of wrongdoing on Microsoft's side, that kind of information is not in any way protected by the law. It's not protected by copyright law (the Unabomber tried to pull a stunt like that, claiming that letters he sent to victims shouldn't have been used to track him down because he was the copyright holder), and not protected as a trade secret (because getting away with a crime is not a competitive advantage protected by the law).

  • Re:OH CRAP! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wytcld (179112) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @12:06PM (#26710793) Homepage

    Yeah, common. I know a couple of "juvenile" book authors who pitched a series concept to Aaron Spelling which they called "Beverly Hills High." It was precisely the plot that Spelling subsequently used for the first season of "90210." But he never credited them nor paid them a thing. It was total theft. Nor were they able to find a lawyer who would give them good odds going up against Spelling about it.

    That's what's so curious about the studios claiming their creative works should be protected from theft. The studios are in large part run by thieves like Aaron Spelling. Their complaint is akin to that of mobsters bothered by any competition with their rackets.

    And in software, Microsoft operates largely on their model. It's not that theft is not in some instances unethical. But theft from someone whose own fortune derives largely from theft? Robin Hood was a good guy.

  • by chaves (824310) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @01:33PM (#26712827)
    You guys are attached to one specific meaning/sense of the word while ignoring others. Many dictionaries state that "to steal" can also mean "to obtain without permission", "to use without acknowledgement" and explicitly refer to ideas or work. For example: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/steal [thefreedictionary.com].

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