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Opera claims ex-employee took trade secrets to Mozilla, sues him for $3.4M (thenextweb.com)
104 points by sverrejoh 1725 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

Opera gets in bed with Google Chrome and then sues the other camp? I thought they were above all this.

Either way, an idea for a browser feature is hardly a huge industrial secret - Webkit, Blink and Gecko have near-parity on features, and are competing more on speed. How would this stand up in court?

Neither Google nor Opera have anything to gain from this - what could be the economic rationale?

I don't think switch to Google's engine is the cause, it's rather another symptom of the same thing — after Jon von Tetzchner has left Opera Software has changed their priorities.

Change of engine, downsizing (and old-time developers fleeing the company), and now the lawsuit to me indicate that Opera Software now favors profits over preserving company's culture, image and web standards influence.

Hippies have left, suits have taken over.

This. Opera is another SCO: failing in the marketplace, it will try to stay afloat with lawsuits.

Financially, at least, they're doing fine; record revenue almost every quarter.

"Opera gets in bed with Google Chrome and then sues the other camp? I thought they were above all this."

These two things are not linked, stop trying to make it so.

They seem linked to me. Since cases like this are much harder to pull off under European law unless you can show actual copy-pasted code, this (like the WebKit move) looks like the symptoms of clueless non-technical management taking over and destroying the company by desperately trying to 'save it.'

There is nothing in the article that says anything about anything related to Google Chrome.

I'm trying to say that they are linked through an underlying cause. Pornel says it much better than me in his comment though.

Jon's closing email is also quite telling:

    Dear All,

    It is with a heavy heart that I send this message. Next week will be my last 
    at Opera. It has become clear that The Board, Management and I do not share 
    the same values and we do not have the same opinions on how to keep evolving 
    Opera. As a result I have come to an agreement with the Board to end my time 
    at Opera. I feel the Board and Management is more quarterly focused than me. 
    I have always worked to build the company for the future. I believe the 
    foundation we have is very solid to build further upon.
    I do believe strongly in Opera as a company, and in all of you working here. 
    Our products actually make a difference for a lot of people in the world, and 
    I wish you all the best of luck moving forward. I will be following the 
    company closely and rooting for you all.

    Yours truly, Jon.

In that email he was probably referring to the direction the board wanted to take Opera in. There has been consistent speculation that Opera's board wanted to make Opera better suited for sale, and was looking forward to getting acquired by someone with deeper pockets. JvT of course, wanted to stay independent and continue to innovate.

Related: http://techie-buzz.com/opera/opera-tetzchner-reacts.html

They don't have to. The parent postulated that they are linked because they are both the result of non-technical management. Stating that this is not mentioned in the article is meaningless as a rebuttal.

Would be nice to have the postulate backed by something other than proximity in the poster's posting, and the poster's speculation, however.

While such wild speculation probably can't get you in trouble in the US of A, some European libel laws probably would require a little more than "seemed like it to me" as a reason to publish an assertion of an association.

This is an issue that I have with European libel laws. It's almost like they don't want you to be able to have an opinion and share it with people unless you feel you can back that assertion in court.

Don't worry. I'm European and I am certain beyond the shadow of a doubt that this won't get me anywhere near trouble under European libel laws. (Apart from the fact that there is no such thing as a 'European law')

First of all, European libel law requires a demonstrably false statement which 'seems to' by definition isn't.

Secondly, libel would be a civil offense so even if I were to be charged it would be the damage I caused to Opera at minimum (lowest value the judge deems to certain to have occurred.)

So basically only if I made a categorically false claim and it caused a demonstrable amount of loss (e.g. a contract with defined monetary value falling apart) would I be seriously affected by European libel law.

0) I didn't mean European as a sovereign legal title, more of a categorical concept in jurisprudence; especially in those who have less of a lengthy run-rate with civil liberties (mileage or kilometerage may vary).

1) While the qualifying comment used "seemed linked to me", the original post had no such qualifiers and asserted its points without anything backing it. I admit its a bit pendantic, and in American usage easier to "get away with" on a comment board. If you were a US TV news or print outlet, you'd have to pre-frame the comments with "editorial" or "opinion", to cover your legal bases.

2) Yes.

3) Probably :-)

What does that have to do with anything? They already admitted the switch to Chrome in past announcements.

It seems at least tangentially related considering in that they probably wouldn't have sued Firefox if they had just decided to switch to the Gecko browser engine. (Or if Hansen had supposedly divulged trade secrets to the Chrome team).

These two things are not linked, stop trying to make it so.

How do you know it? Please tell us or stop making such blanket but unsupported statements

> Opera gets in bed with Google Chrome and then sues the other camp? I thought they were above all this.

They are suing their former employee, not Mozilla.

> Webkit, Blink and Gecko have near-parity on features, and are competing more on speed

The former employee is an artist and a musician. The article says he worked on UI related stuff. None of this has anything to do with the web engine the browsers run.

You are taking the simple fact of Opera suing it's former employee and trying to make it look like there is much more to it than there really is.

I wonder what other conspiracy theories you love.

>I wonder what other conspiracy theories you love.

Is this really the tone of discourse we want here?

I'm amazed at how bad the comments are here. Pretty sad seeing only one sane, reasonable post in a sea of conspiracy theory bullshit and bitter resentment.

Really? How do you know it's not a conspiracy theory? You don't know that and so does OP.

Hell, it's not even a conspiracy theory. OP just shared his point of view, you don't agree to it, it's fine. But please don't pick bs from a comment where there's no bs. It's almost as pathetic as name calling.

You are looking for a conspiracy theory? Here's one: Do you for sure know that Eric Schmidt didn't invite Opera board to a dark abandoned bungalow for a meeting and convinced them to pinch in Mozilla's hind in a proxy manner, promising to acquire(for a BIG sum) and kill Opera in return?

I admit calling out OP for creating a conspiracy theory was a little bit too harsh.

That said, I did not understand a better way to put my point across. The article barely mentions Mozilla, doesn't mention Google at all. They talk about why a guy (a mozilla employee, a former Opera employee) was getting sued.

It does not talk about Opera suing Mozilla. Period. OP took that information and extrapolated it to Opera suing Mozilla because they are chums with Google now.

This is a huge jump in reasoning without any substantial evidence to point at. I am sure there is a Latin phrase for what kind of fallacy it is. I am unaware of it. But I have seen this happen in conspiracy theories, so I put it in the mildest way I could think of. If that offended anyone, I apologize.

I'm not sure, but the phrase "early browser innovations that first saw the light of day over at Opera Software, including tabbed browsing, speed dial, mouse gestures and integrated search" might be a hint. It's hard to imagine now, but Opera had tabs years before any other browser did (maybe even from the start? I started using Opera with version 5 or 6). Opera was also first with those other features, although (iirc) not by as large of a margin as with tabs.

Google funds basically all of Mozilla's budget, something like $300M/yr. Google does not consider Mozilla a rival. If they wanted to destroy Mozilla, they would just need to not renew their funding agreement.

Google got the benefit of the search engine placement in Mozilla for the money. Bing would love to be in Google's place in relationship to Mozilla.

Do you have any idea how much money Mozilla has in the bank?

It's very hard to "destroy" a not-for-profit that has a substantial endowment.

One of my close friends works for Mozilla. I was told by him that they need to spend most, if not all of their money every year. So I don't think they have a substantial amount of money in the bank.

Google hugely benefits from Mozilla search deal. I am sure companies like Amazon, Yahoo and Bing shall jump to the opportunity.

Firefox, IMHO, is one real challenge to Chrome with IE to be outed the day most of the Internet is educated to better software and starts to learn making choices in a broad manner. Safari not counted of course. So, as I said that leaves Firefox and Chrome in the arena. And a Firefox wounded with a financial blow shall be meat for Chrome. Things that's keeping Firefox in race and that is innovation, freedom, privacy advocacy. Without much money in the bank or boggled with court cases it's going to be real hard.

FastMail users might find this Opera a little less pleasant to the ears. Just an observation not related to the browser.

Good point; from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5629255, if the sued employee is even vaguely telling the truth, unless Norwegian trade secret law is vastly different from US they don't vaguely have a case.

Then again, the cheapest way for him to win this battle is in the public arena; without the particulars of their complaint, which we'll hopefully soon learn about, it's hard to say.

But I can say it's never a good sign when a company starts to compete in the courtrooms.

Hard to say anything without hard details, but in Europe this stuff can be hard to make stick.

Also this kind of actioning is distrubing from a company like opera.

Death throes?

He has denied the allegations (as expected). But, at the same time, he also told this to Digi.No.

"When I left the Opera, I did not feel my ideas bore fruit, and I also notified management about. I am a very creative person and I feel that my ideas had value. I would like that my ideas were to reach users".

Source: http://www.digi.no/915782/opera-saksoker-eks-ansatt

This is probably closer to the truth. Seems like Opera is acting more like a jilted lover than anything else. Guy has some good ideas and in the interest of profit, they get buried. He goes across the street where Mozilla sees the potential and implements them and now Opera wants he to pay up for them?

I'm all for keeping trade secrets, but this more along the lines of abstract ideas, not the sort of thing you'll have an easy time in a court of law proving.

> Also this kind of actioning is distrubing from a company like opera.

> Death throes?

Yeah .. I've been an avid Opera fan for many years (since version 5 or 6), but recently a lot of things they do are turning a bit smelly ... Sad to see this happening, they're the only European (or non-US) browser. Not that I'm particularly "(euro-)nationalistic" about that, but I think diversity is a good thing.

There's nothing disturbing about protecting trade secrets, if this is what it is. Now if this was about a non-compete clause, I might agree with you...

Interesting that the claim is "took trade secrets to Mozilla" when apparently Mozilla wants to have nothing to do with that Junior prototype.

Their lawsuit claims that "Opera Software ASA is an innovative company which has developed software and technology which have proved to be successful internationally".

The article talks about features which aren't really IP. Perhaps their trade-secrets relate to coding and construction methods that make their product superior, but these really can't be protected unless they're so esoteric that no one would logically come up with them independently.

So they sue a non-profit to stifle competition in their industry ... show me more innovation (and market-share) than Mozilla and then maybe I'll believe you're the innovator.

Trond Werner Hansen is not a non-profit. In fact, he's not even a corporation.

As a side note, 80% of features in Mozilla were first done in Opera. I even remember a Firebird (as it was called back in the day, before version 1.0) fan or zealot badmouthing Opera and its tabs as being a ridiculous and unnecessary feature. After just four months, that feature was copied. It seems that crowd has not changed even a little.

The only good thing in Mozilla is the OSS license. The only reason they have market share is the OSS license.

I don't think the event you describe was possible, because Mozilla had tabs before Phoenix/Firebird/Firefox even existed. In any case, Opera copied the tabs from other browsers too, so I'm not sure what's your point with that story.

By the way, it wasn't just about the OSS license. Back in the day Opera had a big honking ad right in the main window. They only released an ad-free version in 2005, when Firefox already had 16 times the share of Opera.

I think he perhaps means tabs with a true document interface[1] (i.e multiple web pages can be opened within the same application window and be resized, moved, tiled, and cascaded like normal application windows in the operating system).

Edit: Seems Opera added tabs slightly before Mozilla after looking it up out of interest[2]. Also just some random history on tab integration in web browsers. Mozilla 0.9.5 added them a few months after Opera 4 in 2001, though of course neither was the first. I guess one can say Opera was the first browser to add them that is still a fairly popular browser in present day.

Four years later, in 1994, BookLink Technologies featured tabbed windows in its InternetWorks browser. That same year, a text editor called UltraEdit also appeared with a modern multi-row tabbed interface. The tabbed interface approach was then followed by the Internet Explorer shell NetCaptor in 1997. These were followed by a number of others like IBrowse in 1999, and Opera in [June] 2000 (with the release of version 4 - although a MDI interface was supported before then), MultiViews October 2000, which changed its name into MultiZilla on 1 April 2001 (an extension for the Mozilla Application Suite[7]), Galeon in early 2001, Mozilla 0.9.5 in October 2001, Phoenix 0.1 (now Mozilla Firefox) in October 2002, Konqueror 3.1 in January 2003, and Safari in 2003. With the release of Internet Explorer 7 in 2006, all major web browsers featured a tabbed interface.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Features_of_the_Opera_web_brows...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabbed_browsing#History

I don't think so, Mozilla browsers never had MDI[1], so they couldn't have copied it from Opera.

[1]: There's a feature request since 2000, but it was never implemented: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=60775

Oh, I wasn't talking about Mozilla (the precursor) in regards to that, just Firefox after ditching the Netscape legacy. Sorry for the ambiguity.

I have tried to find said discussion in vain. It's more about the attitude of Firefox users against Opera than anything else.

That big ad is a sad bit of Internet history. A wasted opportunity.

Also: they had a deal with Google to make it the default search engine before Firefox had one.

It's more about the attitude of Firefox users against Opera than anything else...they had a deal with Google to make it the default search engine before Firefox had one.

"Selling out": Opera had it first!

I think 90+% of the Firefox users don't even know what open source is.

> ... show me more innovation (and market-share) than Mozilla and then maybe I'll believe you're the innovator.

I was surprised, but Wikipedia has a nice article in reference to Opera's features[1]. It even lists most of the dates the features were added/created. Opera also has a fairly large mobile market share[2], which is where Opera has traditionally pushed their browser more so than the desktop since the mid 2000s.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Features_of_the_Opera_web_brows...

[2] http://9to5mac.com/2013/04/03/safaris-mobile-browser-market-...

They did not sue a non-profit. RTFA.

Not to mention, Mozilla corporation is not a non-profit :)

Technically true, but they are 100% owned by a non-profit. (Mozilla Foundation owns Mozilla Corporation)

Consider even the NFL is non profit, non profit hardly means anything.

The NFL leaque headquarters organization is a non-profit.

The actual teams, on the other hand, are all profit-seeking entities and pay taxes accordingly.

False: The green bay packers are also a non-profit.

The whole thing is a fairly weird set up designed to avoid antitrust scrutiny and taxes.

The NFL org just plows any profits back into the teams.

> False: The green bay packers are also a non-profit.

There's a lot more to the Packers' ownership; technically they are for-profit in Wisconsin due to state laws, but operate as a non-profit that issues stock. The stock does not have dividends, technically can only be transferred to family members, and has a per-person cap. Other teams can only have a few dozen joint owners; the Packers have something like 150,000 distinct "owner" shareholders that vote on things like stadium enhancements, etc. This is also why they haven't been moved from Green Bay -- too many rabid fans own shares that would never approve a move from Green Bay.

They are the only major sports team in the US to be structured anything like it.

Profits, as indicated on their public books, are either put back into the stadium/city development or go toward another non-profit that's quite active in Wisconsin.

> The whole thing is a fairly weird set up designed to avoid antitrust scrutiny

Well in that regard they failed, as the Congress passed laws decades ago quite specifically exempting the professional sports leagues from antitrust claims relating to sports broadcasting rights, and that was in response to a Supreme Court ruling on the antitrust problems with the NFL.

And now with the NFL Network people are looking closely into whether that antitrust exemption should be retained at all. So I think it's hard to claim that the NFL is managing to use this to avoid antitrust scrutiny; if anything the NFL is bringing even more of it on themselves.

> The NFL org just plows any profits back into the teams

Which then shows up as extra income for the teams, which increases their profit (except for the Packers), which leads to higher taxes, etc. etc.

I'm sure you can play accounting tricks to reduce the impact of the extra income but I see nothing weird by itself with having a League office to handle League-wide affairs that don't involve individual teams.

Yes, i'm acutely aware of the various antitrust exemptions. However, the structure enables them to say they make no profits, and own no market: that would be the teams. Additionally, they will say there are no damages at all, since they are a non-profit, they make no money, and have nothing to gain for themselves by committing antitrust violations. Lastly, they will say being a 501(c)(6) specifically authorizes them to be doing what they are doing.

At least their supreme court arguments were that they were operating as a single entity, "the NFL". They specifically called out their structure as being proof of this. Thus, this structure was, in part in attempt to avoid antitrust scrutiny.

It was certainly a failure, but that doesn't mean it wasn't one of the reasons they did it :)

I feel what you're saying on this since the pro leagues being nonprofits seems silly on the surface but you could say that about any trade organization really. The US has a real problem with what's allowed to define itself as non-profit (scam religions like crack churches and Scientology, fake athlete charities, etc) but I don't think Mozilla falls in that camp.

This is mostly true, and note that the NFL is not a 501(c)(3), they are a 501(c)(6) which is a very different kind of non-profit.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_for_hire Surely work for hire applies?

Last time I checked, Norway was not really part of the US, so the law might actually be different…

It's not just a US concept. Norway seems to have fairly strong protections on the expression of ideas - i.e. you can't copyright ideas in many cases. I wonder do they have special laws for trade secrets. Opera are going to have difficulty hiring people if they are suing former employees.

Pretty sure you can't copyright ideas anywhere.

Be sure to let the US Patent Office know about that.

The USPTO is likely well aware that they have nothing to do with copyright, just the Patents and Trademarks mentioned in their name.

This is a trade secret case. If he genuinely had trade secrets (the bar for that is pretty high in the US), things like work for hire, non-competes (which are officially allowed in the US outside of California to prevent the "first bite of the apple" of trade secret disclosure), etc. are irrelevant.


It seems it's a Norwegian case - they seem to have pretty strict laws for trade secrets laid out in the above pdf. The claim is given in Norwegian Krone.

Guess it's time to stop using Opera

Was the trade secret "switch to webkit"?

Did you even read the article ?

I did. Here's the relevant section:

"For the record: we have not yet had the chance to look at the lawsuit documents or discuss the specifics of the allegations and size of the claimed damages with Opera management or its lawyers, but we’ll update this post as soon as we have."

Definitely read that as "Oprah" and was very confused.

Definitely beating a dead horse.

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