Google Accused

Trial by Post-it

PostIts action press
The proof is on the Post-it, or is it?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    It is not the first time that Google has been accused of stealing trade secrets from other, ususally much smaller, companies. The VSL communications case is now having a knock-on effect in Germany, where the license-holder Max Sound has filed a suit against the company.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • London-based VSL Communications accused Google of stealing its technology for shrinking audio and video files.
    • VSL says that after the deal to buy the company’s tech failed to happen, Google handed back the VSL documents covered in Post-it notes, some of which told developers to “turn a blind eye” to existing IP.
    • Max Sound, a license holder for the technology in question, has now brought a patent lawsuit against Google.
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  • Audio

    Audio

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In 2014, headlines about Google in Germany have focused on the the much-debated breaking up of the Internet giant’s search-engine monopoly.

Now, the company is attracting attention for different reasons. Google is accused of stealing coding technology for audio and video data – and quite intentionally, as forgotten post-it notes are supposed to prove.

The case, which is before a court in the United States, has now reached Germany.

Last week, media data company Max Sound brought a patent action before the regional court of Mannheim.

Max Sound holds the license for the data transfer and decoding technology, which it obtained from VSL Technology.

VSL discovered that parts of its technology had been implemented in Google’s technology.

In March 2010, Google managers had talks with VSL about buying the technology or the company itself. In the course of due diligence and with a confidentiality agreement in place, VSL handed over information about their technology to Google.

Then Google broke off takeover discussions, and VSL requested their materials be returned. When the documents came back, they were allegedly marked up with yellow Post-it notes, which Google managers had supposedly forgotten to remove.

What was allegedly written on the notes is the crux of the accusations – that developers should “turn a blind eye” to existing intellectual property, and that any infringement could simply be regarded as “thoughtless.”

Then, a few years later, VSL discovered that parts of its technology had been implemented in Google’s technology, including in the Chrome browser.

Whether the Post-it notes are really from Google has not been proven. The company declined to comment on the case. In the United States, a jury of lay people will decide the case, and the notes could have an effect on their judgement.

Meanwhile, back in Mannheim, the notes won’t play an important role, as the investigation will focus on the validity of the patent and its infringement.

 

 

Jens Koenen is head of the Handelsblatt Frankfurt bureau. To contact the author: koenen@handelsblatt.com.

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