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Ethical Issue

Sai Surya
Ranch Hand

Joined: Feb 08, 2006
Posts: 463

Dear all,

I would like to know your view points on some uncertainity I am in now. The story is, one of my ex-team member (and close friend of mine) quit our company 2 years back. But recently our management came to know that he is co-founder of another startup company which could be competitor to our company. Also, the product they are building is based on our product's concept, although he did NOT steal any tangible iteams like documents, charts, source code he in fact copied our product idea and re-built the whole product and started marketing. Now, our company considering a lawsuit against him.

But, as an employee of same company I know what documents I signed, he must have signed same documents like non-disclosure agreement, non-competence agreement etc. I had a quick walkthrough of them and found that he is not suppposed to engage directly or indirectly in any business which is in competetion of our company and should not build, support anything which is our product idea without any limit in time and something like that...

However, as a close friend of mine, I feel he has done nothing wrong. But I am noway in a a position to convince my management not to harm him in any manner. He is a hard working family guy and I do not want him to be stuck in lawsuits.

What do you think? Do you think he is stealing ideas or inspired from ideas?

sai Surya.

Sai Surya, SCJP 5.0, SCWCD 5.0, IBM 833 834, I believe in Murphy's law.
chris webster

Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 2289

Well, this is a question for the lawyers and the judge, not for us here on JavaRanch!

You obviously want to speak up for your friend at work, but you need to be careful that your company doesn't decide you are collaborating with your friend to feed him inside information, as that could make life difficult for you. It's even possible that your company - or your friend - could ask you to make some kind of formal statement about the issue if you've been closely involved with the development of this product. So you'll need to tread a careful line between your loyalty to your friend and your loyalty to your employer (or at least to the fact that you don't want to lose your job!). And be careful not to suggest online that he copied your product idea.

It seems to be fashionable for tech companies to sue each other these days, although it's been going on for decades. And it often seems to be just a way for Company A to threaten Company B with having to spend so much time/money for years of legal action that B will agree to pay some money to A just to avoid the much bigger costs of litigation. But it depends on the legal system e.g. the US courts seem to be much friendlier to big software companies than courts in Europe.

But it's also quite normal for one company to take an idea implemented by another company and re-implement it better or differently. Otherwise there'd only be one word-processor (and it wouldn't be Word)! Depending on the legal system, the tests for theft of intellectual property can be quite strict, so your company might not win even if they do take legal action. Again, it would be a question for the courts to decide if your friend's company had really "stolen" anything from your company.

It's also quite normal to have non-competition clauses in your contract, although they usually only apply for a limited period. Many people question whether these clauses can be enforced legally, e.g. some legal systems include the idea of "reasonableness" in deciding whether something is legally enforceable, and it might not be reasonable to prohibit somebody from working in a similar field for the rest of their life just because they worked for your company for a few months. But you don't want to be the person to find this out to your own cost. Another one for the lawyers.

I'd say, let your company and your friend consult their lawyers on this, and be careful to stay out of it yourself if you can.

No more Blub for me, thank you, Vicar.
Sai Surya
Ranch Hand

Joined: Feb 08, 2006
Posts: 463

Agreed. My company know me well enough that I am in their side. I didn't even talk to him all these days and moreover my company only giving harmless information to me. After all I am just another employee.

As you said there will not be any companies if one cannot inspire from another.

Thanks for the reply.
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