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Corporate Espionage Involving a Patent At Microsoft 241

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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  • Repeat after me... (Score:5, Informative)

    by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:16AM (#26707315)
    "You can't steal information." It's intangible. Thank you.
  • WTF? (Score:1, Informative)

    by JamesRose ( 1062530 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @07:17AM (#26707325)

    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. Who the hell really thinks they could outsmart the Microsoft legal team when it comes to fact checking?

  • by MickLinux ( 579158 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @08:33AM (#26707789) Journal

    Of course, if you RTA, he didn't break the law. Moreover, he told Microsoft about the company and the patent in writing, possibly depending on the fact that such writing tends to get ignored.

    Moreover, it appears that he allowed his company to lapse (but probably not the incorporation to lapse, since lawyers advise against it), and had basically shut it down due to a complete lack of profits.

    Microsoft is trying to make it appear that he broke the law, to cover the fact that they really did break the law. They took his work, and used it without agreed-upon compensation. Now, I too do not hold patents to be natural law. They are only a construct of the current system that we are in, historically designed to profit powerful companies like Microsoft and other King's Friends. But they are a part of our current law, and Microsoft makes heavy use of them. And Microsoft did break the law, stealing his work without agreed-upon compensation, long before Mr. M. ever applied for employment there.

    I'd say that this one needs to go for full damages. Possibly triple, if the jury concludes that Microsoft has a history of criminal and corrupt behavior (though that would be harder to prove.) Hmmm... I wonder if there could be a class-action lawsuit by those whose work was stolen (including GNU and WordPerfect and Apple and others) against Microsoft. Go through their code and show that the majority of their work was stolen.

    Nah. That'd take an insider to prove it. And then Microsoft would scream bloody murder, even if they had themselves authorized the insider's access.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:48AM (#26708349)

    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.

    There is always some joker who thinks the GPL is all about copyrights.
    You are wrong.

    The GPL is referred to as the "copyleft" because it is a hack of the intended purpose of copyright - to reduce the freedoms of the end user of software. Stallman's goal is to get the software industry to the point where the automobile industry is today. Nobody would buy a car with engine compartment welded shut, the market would not tolerate it. Similarly, the market for software should get to the point where nobody would buy compiled software without easy access to the code. At that point, the GPL and its twisting of copyright law against itself would be unnecessary.

  • Link to the patent (Score:3, Informative)

    by spitzak ( 4019 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @09:55AM (#26708425) Homepage

    U.S. Patent No. 6,411,941 []

    Any opinions on whether this is bogus or obvious?

    IMHO he did a stupid thing by taking that job. He had to sign employment agreements and contracts and they most likely invalidated his claims. And he certainly copied documents he was not allowed to copy as an employee.

  • by Theaetetus ( 590071 ) <> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @10:12AM (#26708629) Homepage Journal

    Now, I too do not hold patents to be natural law. They are only a construct of the current system that we are in, historically designed to profit powerful companies like Microsoft and other King's Friends.

    Intellectual property rights go back the Roman Era. And they're historically designed to protect small inventors from the powerful companies. You're a victim of FUD.

  • by Elektroschock ( 659467 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @10:57AM (#26709387)

    Well, actually no one so far disputed the case Microsoft makes. Mullar does []:

    In response to numerous requests for comments regarding a lawsuit filed against me in Washington, I would like to make the following comments.

    I am the inventor of U.S. Patent No. 6,411,941 relating to software anti-piracy technology, and Ancora is my company.

    I applied for my patent in 1998. In 2002, the patent issued from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In 2003, I approached Microsoft and had several discussions with a Microsoft lawyer and employees of Microsoftâ(TM)s Anti Piracy group about my invention and the benefits Microsoft could realize by using it. Microsoft declined and said they had no interest in my invention.

    After 3 years of working at a start up without salary and benefits, and with a first child about to be born, it was time for me to move on and look for a job to support my family. We ceased business operations at Ancora in 2005, and Microsoft was the first company to extend me an employment offer. I accepted. In early 2006, I moved my family to Seattle from Los Angeles, bought a house and focused on my new career at Microsoft. I enjoyed my job very much, and Microsoft commended my work and even promoted me.
    When I joined Microsoft, I notified them in writing of Ancora and my patent in both my resume and in my employment agreement. In its complaint against me, Microsoft withheld the portions of these key documents that show this.

    At the same time I was employed at Microsoft, but unknown to me, Microsoft was developing what is now known as âoeOEM Activation.â OEM Activation is installed on computers made by HP, Dell, Toshiba and others (called OEMs) to prevent piracy of Microsoftâ(TM)s Windows Vista software installed on those computers. This work was being done in a different department at Microsoft.

    Now, I personally find there should not be patents at all []. It is a shame to see the defamation campaign of Microsoft. The case shows that the patent system does not have any benefit at all for software. Small inventors cannot enforce them against ruthless big companies:

    OEM Activation is a blatant copy of my invention. In fact, the same Microsoft person that I explained my invention to back in 2003 was involved in the development of OEM Activation.

  • by Theaetetus ( 590071 ) <> on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @11:53AM (#26710493) Homepage Journal

    I don't claim authors have no rights. I only claim that copyright is not the same as property rights, and to confuse the two is a serious misrepresentation of both the law and the business climate.

    No, it's a serious misrepresentation to claim that copyright does not involve property rights. Intellectual property in general has groundings in contract law (non-disclosure agreements), tort law (misappropriation, unfair competition), and property law (first to discover [see Pierson v. Post, a.k.a Finders Keepers v. Losers Weepers], right to exclude).

  • by steelfood ( 895457 ) on Tuesday February 03, 2009 @01:01PM (#26712061)

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

    Does this imply that the most valuable idea is one that nobody knows? I have to ask how valuable is something that has no purpose. It is only until a consciousness realizes the idea that it has a purpose. And I would argue that the more people who know an idea, the greater its purpose. And hence, the more valuable it becomes.

    ...the most you can recover is $100.

    The flaw in your example is that Microsoft is a monopoly. Ignoring what company it is, if your idea was sold for $100, then that's the free market value, and likely how much you're going to get for it if you tried to sell it (you can't get undercut because ideas cost you no resources to produce). If you think you can make more money than $100, you're welcome to put out an actual product and compete like everybody else. If somebody else can find a way to make your idea better, then they've outcompeted you and fair's fair. The idea that you can have one idea and milk it forever is just an extension of the entitlement attitude in US (and western) culture.

    Microsoft is a monopoly, so a different set of rules apply (because the free market always trends towards monopolies). If they started using your idea without your consent, they'd be punished much more heavily because they're in a dominant market position, and they're able to outcompete you by nature of their size alone.

    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.

    You don't seem to understand that the majority of Slashdot readers and commenters write FOSS software. And quite frankly, I haven't heard anybody complaining about a sore foot.

    It's also an affirmation of a right that has existed for a few thousand years.

    [Citation Needed]

    I can tell you that the entire concept of intellectual property likely did not exist until mass reproduction became possible. It began with the printing press (mass production of ideas) and then later the assembly line (mass production of tangible goods based on an idea). Prior to that, it was too expensive to reproduce for intellectual property rights to even come into play.

    Quite frankly, you don't deserve an insightful. You barely know what you're talking about. You have no knowledge of history, and even less knowledge of how free market economics (capitalism) work. Citing a section the constitution only says you can read. And yes, this is an ad hominem. But I can't stand ignorant mods modding up ignorant posts while so many gems elsewhere are left at 2 or modded down to 0.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva