Update: Opera slaps former designer with $3.4M lawsuit for spilling secrets

Norwegian paper says Opera Software claims designer's work ended up in a project at rival Mozilla; Firefox maker denies involvement

Opera Software has sued a former designer, claiming that work he did for the company ended up in a project at rival Mozilla, according to Norwegian press reports today.

Mozilla denied that it was involved.

Trond Werner Hansen, who left Opera as a full-time employee in 2006 but later worked for the Norwegian browser maker as a consultant from 2009 to 2010, faces a $3.4 million damage suit filed by his former employer, Dagens Naeringsliv (DN) reported Monday.

In the lawsuit, Opera alleged that Hansen shared confidential information, including work he did while at the company, with Mozilla, where he worked as a contractor in 2012.

"Opera is of the opinion that the former employee has acted contrary to his contractual and other legal obligations towards Opera," said Ole Tokvam, a partner with Bing Hodneland Advokatselskap DA, the firm Opera has hired for the lawsuit. "Among other things, we claim that he is in breach of the duty of loyalty and his contractual and statutory confidentiality obligations."

Last summer, Hansen presented a prototype of an iPad-capable browser, dubbed "Junior," at a Mozilla event. Alex Limi, who works in product design strategy at Mozilla, also spoke at the June 2012 event.

Junior was characterized as "an iPad browser that makes browsing more fun, more ergonomic and re-thinks browser user experience from the ground up."

Mozilla has never launched an iPad-capable browser, and has repeatedly said -- most recently just last month -- that it would not enter the iOS market because of Apple's restrictions, which bar any third-party browser not built atop Apple's own Safari, specifically its WebKit rendering engine and Nitro JavaScript engine.

Junior was envisioned as WebKit-based.

Tokvam declined to discuss the case further, but DA reported that the issues at the root of the lawsuit included similarities in the search button placement and location of users' bookmarks in the work Hansen did at and for Opera, and what he prototyped in Junior.

Mozilla, which was not named in the lawsuit, distanced itself from Hansen. "It has been reported that Opera Software is pursuing a lawsuit against software consultant Trond Werner Hansen," a Mozilla spokesman said in a reply to questions today. "Mozilla is not being sued, and is not implicated in the lawsuit. Mr. Hansen worked for a time as an independent contractor and is no longer affiliated with Mozilla Corporation."

Mozilla also denied that Junior was at issue. "To our knowledge, Opera's lawsuit does not involve the Junior experiment," the same spokesman said.

Hansen did not immediately reply to a message posted to his Facebook account, but DA quoted him as saying that the ideas he used in Junior were his own. "My ideas were never sold or transferred to Opera. I've always had an awareness of what is regarded as Opera's property and what is mine," Hansen told the publication.

Hansen also said that while at Opera, he struck a deal under which he would develop his own browser, but that that never came to pass. "I did not feel my ideas bore fruit, and I also notified management about [that]," he said. "I feel that my ideas had value [and] I would like my ideas to reach users."

An initial hearing in the case is currently scheduled for late August in Oslo, Tokvam noted.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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