I Didn’t Steal Secrets From Opera, Says Former Developer

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Opera accuses Trond Werner Hansen of breach of contract and claims £2.2m in damages

A former employee of Opera Software who stands accused of providing confidential information to Mozilla said he was simply sharing ideas taken from his own personal project.

Opera claims that Trond Werner Hansen, who had worked for the Norwegian company for eight years, revealed trade secrets to the developers of the popular Firefox browser, and has demanded damages of 20 million NOK (£2.2m).

Personal project

Hansen had worked at Opera Software for eight years: seven as a lead designer on the desktop browser, coming back later for a year as a consultant. His team was responsible for many innovative features that made Opera popular with users,  despite its small market share – tabbed browsing, integrated search, speed dial and mouse gestures.

firefox-extensionsOpera believes Hansen shared the know-how behind some of these features with open source enthusiasts at Mozilla, in breach of his contract, and claims it has proof.

The developer admits that in 2007 he had meetings with Mozilla, Google and Flock, but says he was simply discussing his own personal project and “the future of the browser”. Later in 2012, after he was hired by Mozilla, he says he was advancing his own ideas, not borrowing them from his former employer.

After leaving Opera, Hansen thought about developing his own browser codenamed “GB”. The platform would be open source, based on WebKit, have a light footprint and a unified search and address field. “In retrospect, some people at Google were obviously having similar thoughts, because they built just that, a lean and clean browser based on WebKit: Chrome,” says the developer.

In 2008, after spending a year away from Opera, Hansen was invited back by its then-CEO Jon von Tetzchner. In his blog post, the developer says the two discussed GB, but failed to reach a business agreement. Instead, Hansen was hired as a consultant.

He says that even though some of his suggestions were “naturally” borrowed from GB, at no point did he transfer ownership of the project to Opera. And when the company didn’t renew his contract, he took these ideas elsewhere, namely to Mozilla.

“At that time, very little development progress had actually been made, and I informed 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 thought many of my original GB ideas and the direction I wanted to take still had value, and I would like to see the ideas put into code.”

However, Opera seems to have forgotten about the meeting. Last year, when it saw Hansen at a Mozilla presentation dedicated to mobile browsers and Search Tabs, it suddenly decided to sue in a Norwegian court. “I strongly disagree with their position and I believe I have been wrongly accused, and that I can prove my case,” says Hansen.

“Mozilla is not being sued, and is not implicated in the lawsuit,” said a statement from Mozilla. “Mr. Hansen worked for a time as an independent contractor and is no longer affiliated with Mozilla Corporation.”

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