Software firm loses High Court copyright action

The High Court has dismissed a software company's claims that a rival entity established by three former senior workers had conspired to "hijack its' business" by developing a competing product.

US registered Koger Inc, and its Irish based subsidiary Koger (Dublin) Ltd brought proceedings seeking damages and aggravated damages against three of its former employees and consultants James O'Donnell, Roger Woolman, David Gross and HWM Financial Solutions Limited alleging breach of copyright over the development of a software product used in the administration of investment funds.

The defendants denied the claims.

Today at the High Court Mr Justice Kevin Feeney dismissed Koger's action on the grounds that it had failed to establish its claims against the defendants.

Koger claimed that the defendants, who were all senior employees or consultants with the firm before leaving at various dates in 2006, developed and released onto the market within a very short period of time a software programme, known as ManTra, which was a rival to their product NTAS.

Developed in the 1990's by Koger NTAS, is used in a number of countries by fund administrators, fund managers and fund advisors.

Koger had established itself as a market leader and by 2006 had more than 50% of the market share.

Koger claimed that ManTra was developed as a result of breach of confidence and infringement of the its copyright for NTAS.

Koger also alleged the defendants were breach of confidence and had abused confidential information and trade secrets.

Koger further claimed that HWM had wrongfully interfered with its economic interests and had taken out key staff in order to develop its rival product.

However in what was a detailed and lengthy judgment Mr Justice Feeney dismissed the claims. From the evidence he said the court could not infer that NTAS was used by the defendants during the period when ManTra was developed.

The Judge added that the two software products were fundamentally different in design. The Judge added that an examination of ManTra does not show how that product would have benefited from its development from access to NTAS.

The Judge said that the evidence supports a conclusion that the experience and knowledge of those developing ManTra was such that were well capable of designing the product from memory and pre-existing knowledge without any requirement to use a copy of NTAS.

The Judge said that also had come to the clear and unambiguous conclusion that the evidence tendered on behalf of the defendants was to be preferred. That was in comparison to the evidence from Koger's directors George and Ras Sipko which the judge described as being "less than complete or reliable," "evasive" and "inaccurate".

The court in rejecting the conspiracy claims that Koger's CEO George Sipko was a volatile personality who conducted business and acted in a dictatorial and abusive manner designed to humiliate bully and threaten employees and contractors.

The Judge added there was a prevailing atmosphere in Koger which resulted in a high turnover in staff. This was a relevant factor, the Judge said, in explaining why people ceased to work for the company.

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