Former Opera Employee Sued for Giving Mozilla Trade Secrets

A former employee and consultant for Norwegian browser developer Opera Software is currently facing accusations that he gave away trade secrets to browser rival Mozilla. A lawsuit filed by Opera is asking for 20 million Norwegian Krone, or roughly $3.4 million USD, in damages.

The former employee in question is Trond Werner Hansen, a designer and musician based in Oslo, Norway. He worked with Opera Software from 1999 to 2006, and then returned as a consultant from 2009 to 2010 based on the company's request. Hansen's credits include tabbed browsing, speed dial, mouse gestures and integrated search.

Hansen reportedly worked with Mozilla last year to design and develop a prototype browser for the iPad called "Junior". Opera's trade secret allegations stem from this browser and a video hosted by Mozilla which features Hansen talking about the browser right after Firefox product design lead Alex Limi. The problem seems to be that the two showcase a number of innovations that Opera was/is supposedly working on.

News of the lawsuit first appeared in business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Monday morning, and was confirmed by TheNextWeb. Hansen also confirmed the lawsuit, and even said that he has been forced to drop plans to open an art gallery and in promoting his latest music album here in the States to return to Norway and deal with the issue.

Naturally Hansen disagrees with the lawsuit, explaining on his Tumblr blog that after he left Opera in 2006, he considered creating a lean and clean browser with a unified search and address field he calls "GB". But it only existed as a concept and ideas – Google seemed to have the same concept in mind, and thus released Chrome. He eventually met with Google, Mozilla and Flock, but in the end, the project 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," Hansen states. "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."

The story goes on. Meanwhile, Opera’s lawyer, Bing Hodneland Advokatselskap partner Ole E. Tokvam, essentially throws out a "no comment" regarding the details of the lawsuit.

"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," Tokvam stated. "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."

What a mess. Expect to hear more about the lawsuit in the next few days.