Norwegian browser maker Opera Software has filed a lawsuit against a former employee and consultant, alleging that the man gave away trade secrets to rival Mozilla. Opera is claiming a whopping 20 million Norwegian Krone, or roughly $3.4 million, in damages.

The person Opera Software is taking to court is Trond Werner Hansen, a designer and musician based in Oslo, Norway. Hansen worked with the software company from 1999 to 2006, and returned as a consultant from 2009 to 2010 at Opera’s request.

He is credited as the driving force behind early browser innovations that first saw the light of day over at Opera Software, including tabbed browsing, speed dial, mouse gestures and integrated search.

Trading secrets?

Opera is now suing him for $3.4 million because they believe Hansen took some of their trade secrets to rival Mozilla, which develops the popular Firefox browser. As evidence, Opera points to a video that features Hansen speaking right after Firefox product design lead Alex Limi.

Hansen worked with Mozilla last year, designing and developing a browser prototype for the iPad, codenamed ‘Junior’.

In the video, Hansen talks about the Junior project, but Opera is apparently mostly irked because Limi shows a number of innovations the Norwegian software company was – or is still – working on.

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.

Case confirmed

The news about the lawsuit was first reported by business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) this morning, but hasn’t yet made it to the publication’s website, despite other local media such as Digi.no jumping on the opportunity to spread the word digitally.

We spoke to Hansen earlier this morning and confirmed with him that the lawsuit is real, however. In fact, it’s so real the man saw himself forced to return to Norway from the United States, where he was hoping to release and promote his first music album, and maybe open up an art gallery.

He wouldn’t make any comments on his history at Opera, but said he and his lawyers are determined to prove that he did nothing wrong.

Opera responded to our request for comment by referring us to their legal counsel, which hasn’t yet gotten back to our repeated request.

Hansen says he’s been stonewalled too; he and his lawyers have yet to engage in a direct conversation with Opera as the case proceeds to trial.

To be continued, no doubt.

Update:

Opera’s lawyer, Bing Hodneland Advokatselskap partner Ole E. Tokvam, has given us this statement:

This dispute is pending before the courts, and due to the pending court hearing that will take place late august, Opera chooses not to comment on the case in detail.

Hansen is a former employee and consultant of Opera Software ASA. Opera Software ASA is of the opinion that Hansen, after he left Opera, has acted contrary to his contractual and other legal obligations towards Opera, among other things, the duty of loyalty and his contractual and statutory confidentiality obligations.

Opera Software ASA is an innovative company which has developed software and technology which have proved to be successful internationally. It is only natural that Opera Software ASA acts on any violations in order to protect its interests.

Second Update:

Trond has published a short blog post concerning the lawsuit. You can read the entire post here. The key excerpts state that Trond maintains his innocence. He claims to have been working on a browser in concept after his time at Opera, and almost brought the project into that company. However, the two parties could not reach a contractual agreement, so he consulted instead.

Here’s Trond [Formatting: TNW]:

After leaving, and for the next couple of years, I considered developing a new browser that I’ll call GB here. […] GB existed as a concept and ideas, but was never developed, since I chose to focus on other projects. I did in fact meet up with Mozilla, Google and Flock (a first attempt at a social browser) in 2007 to talk about the future of the browser, and it was very tempting to have a go at it, but in the end I chose a different path that year. Needless to say, pursuing to develop the browser would have been a lot of work.

In the summer of 2008, Opera’s founder and CEO at the time, Jon von Tetzchner reaches out and asks if I want to contribute more to Opera. I tell him about GB and propose that we could develop GB as a rebooted and simplified Opera browser. He is very interested, but when we start to talk business, and I tell him that I want no salary and no shares, but 1% of the search revenue as compensation, he says that’s not possible. So there is no deal. In fact, there is never any kind of deal or transfer of ownership of GB concepts to Opera.

In the beginning of 2009, we come to an agreement of me just helping out as a consultant instead, and during 2009 and 2010 some of my design proposals will naturally be based on some of my older GB concepts, since that’s the direction I wanted to take the browser.

The consultancy ends late 2010 when Opera decides not to renew the contract. At that time, very little development progress has actually been made, and I inform the new CEO at the time, Lars Boilesen, that I will most likely pursue to contribute to an open source project like the Mozilla Firefox browser instead, since I think many of my original GB ideas and the direction I wanted to take the browser still has value, and I would like to see the ideas put into code. In a meeting with Lars, he says he understands that, and my intentions are also made clear in an email to him, but he never replies to that email.

Later, I enter a consultancy agreement with Mozilla, and in June 2012, a video is made public which shows me presenting a touch based browser prototype called Junior. This prototype has nothing to do with the lawsuit now filed by Opera. However, in that same video, a Mozilla employee presents among others a feature named Search Tabs, and Opera claims that it proves that I must have told Mozilla trade secrets causing them damages of 20 million NOK.  ($3.4 million). I strongly disagree with their position and I believe I have been wrongly accused, and that I can prove my case.

Also read:

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