Designs by Felon
We are trying to stop the theft of functional designs of software. About two years ago I [Hans Mulder] was asked, as experts for the courts, to examine a case in which three former employees developed a functional design for a fuel credit card system in only 11 days. This time span was remarkable short compared to the 1.2 million dollar and two year investment of their former employer to develop the functional design in cooperation with oil companies and the Belgium and Dutch governments. The former employer suspected that parts of the functional design were stolen and used by the former employees.
In order to compare the functional designs an investigation was set-up and more than a dozen of 'silent' hidden hyperlinks were discovered in the document of the three former employees. Remarkably those links referred to the website of their former employer, they just copied and pasted the texts and changed the website address of their former employer in the web address of their newly founded company, but were unaware that text processors 'remember' the original hyperlink.
When offering this evidence to the Dutch court the ruling/verdict of the judge was that just copying a text with reference to a website address is not considered unlawful. A complete comparison of the text in the functional design of company A with that of the newly started company B and their respective information systems should be established. The reason behind this is that law does not protect the intellectual properties on functional designs. Currently only the source code is protected. This is in current times out dated because code can be generated from the 'source', namely the functional specifications. A complete manual comparison of hundreds of pages of functional specifications is a tough job.
Our idea gave birth to the use of anti-plagiarism software of Ephorus which was introduced in universities in the Netherlands a few years ago in order to combat fraud of students. Nowadays Ephorus is the world market leader in anti-plagiarism software, which allows uploading hundreds of documents at the same time and checking everything in an instant. Ephorus can rapidly identify texts, which include rearranged words, sentences or paragraphs. Even texts that have been altered do not pose a problem, the system sees through different formats quickly and efficiently. Ephorus compares with: billions of Internet sources; work previously submitted at the university or submitted at the 5,000 other schools and universities that use Ephorus; other relevant documents: journals, reference material, etc
An automatic comparison of two functional designs is simpler, faster and cheaper than doing the job manually, and it is more complete. The anti-plagiarism software identified pages of altered text, which a manual comparison could not discover. The texts of the former employees then were easily linked to the respective information systems. In the coming months the judge was asked to consider the report with the analysis of the plagiarism of the functional design.