Opera sues ex-employee for $3.4M over alleged trade secrets violation

Opera sues ex-employee for $3.4M over alleged trade secrets violation

Trond Werner Hansen, the designer of some of the Opera Web browser's signature interface features, has been sued by that company in Norway for 20 million kroner ($3.4 million).

The initial report, from Norwegian publication Dagens Naeringsliv, says that Hansen is accused of revealing Opera's trade secrets to rival browser maker Mozilla, and that the case centers on a video detailing new interface design ideas.

During Hansen's time at Opera, he says in a blog entry, he helped create features like tabbed browsing, speed dial, integrated search and mouse gestures -- many of which have become more or less standard in modern browsers.

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Hansen told DN that news of the lawsuit was "sad" and "incomprehensible." He worked at Opera from 1999 until 2006, and came back as a consultant for a second brief stint from 2009 to 2010. The latter period saw him working on a project that incorporated design concepts from a proposed browser he'd been working on in his spare time.

Hansen describes his "green browser" concept (or GB) as being similar to what Google eventually came up with in Chrome -- a stripped-down, open source WebKit browser with a unified search and address field -- but with the addition of a feature that would allow revenue from search providers to go to environmental causes.

Opera founder and CEO Jon von Tetzchner wanted Hansen to develop GB for his company, but balked at the idea of paying 1% of search revenue instead of salary or shares. The two settled on Hansen simply acting as a consultant later -- which means, he writes, that the initial proposal to bring GB into the Opera fold was void.

Opera has declined to comment on the case, citing the pending trial, and referred inquiries to lawyer Ole Tokvam, of the firm of Bing Hodneland.

The competition between Opera and Mozilla is so fierce, according to IDC analyst Al Hilwa, because the two companies both make cross-platform browsers and have an interest in the mobile space.

"Platform owners like Apple, Google and Microsoft will always put their browsers first, so Opera and Mozilla have to work harder and innovate faster to make their technology attractive. It is why we have seen Mozilla make a big effort to launch a mobile OS and we may well see Opera do something similar. The lawsuit we are seeing shows some of the stresses of this competition," he says.

[H/T: The Next Web]

Email Jon Gold at and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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