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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

Jury Awards Millions For Simulation Software Misappropriation (and Misunderstanding?)

 
April 17th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

Earlier this week, MSC Software Corp. announced that a jury in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan found that Altair Engineering willfully and maliciously took MSC Software trade secrets (from Adams simulation software) to use in its MotionSolve product. In other words, the ruling spells out that Altair Engineering knowingly took MSC Software trade secrets with malicious intent.

Keep in mind, though, that this award was no slam-dunk, as the suit was first filed in July 2007 as MSC Software Corp. versus Altair Engineering Inc. The six-week trial ended with two days of jury deliberation.

The jury awarded MSC Software $26.1 million for misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of confidentiality agreements by Altair and two former MSC employees who are currently executives at Altair.

Jurors found that Altair had misappropriated some source code as well as concepts or processes that are used to write the code from MSC, and that the employees had also violated one or more non-solicitation, confidentiality, or severance agreements with MSC.

According to the lawsuit, after Altair hired some former MSC Software employees, Altair began developing a software product called MotionSolve that competed directly with MSC’s Adams/Solver.

MSC had previously alleged that at least eight employees had left MSC between 2005 and 2007 and took jobs at Altair. Five of those employee claims were dismissed prior to trial.

The jury found that two former MSC Software employees broke non-solicitation restrictions contained in agreements they had with MSC and that Altair tortiously interfered with the MSC non-solicitation restrictions with these individuals, and awarded MSC an additional $425,000. Tortious interference, also known as intentional interference with contractual relations, in the common law of torts, occurs when a party intentionally damages a plaintiff’s contractual or other business relationships.

MSC Software’s Adams Simulation In Action

After Altair hired the former MSC employees, according to the MSC lawsuit, Altair began putting resources into a software product called MotionSolve that competed directly with an MSC product called Adams/Solver.

The prosecution claimed that Adams intellectual property had been misused in Altair’s MotionSolve, a direct competitor of MSC’s product. In the end, the jurors ruled that these secrets not only included processes, but essential source code, as well.

Originally developed by Mechanical Dynamics Inc. and later acquired by MSC Software, Adams (Automated Dynamic Analysis of Mechanical Systems), is multibody dynamics  simulation software with an integrated viewer, solver, and post processor.

The intent behind Adams was the ability to study the dynamics of moving parts, how loads and forces are distributed throughout mechanical systems, and to improve and optimize product performance.

Altair’s MotionSolve also is an integrated software package for analyzing and optimizing multi-body system performance.

According to Altair, MotionSolve is validated for quality, robustness and speed. Based on numerical methods and scalable formulations, MotionSolve offers modeling, analysis, visualization and optimization capabilities for multi-disciplinary simulations that include kinematics & dynamics, statics & quasi-statics, linear & vibration studies, stress & durability, loads extraction, co-simulation, effort estimation, and packaging synthesis.

Probably the two biggest benefits of MotionSolve are:

  • The ability to assess system design and performance with nonlinear dynamics, kinematics, linear, static, or quasi-static studies.
  • Creating complex, nonlinear systems for evaluating the dynamic behavior of systems, studying vibration isolation, designing control systems, performing packaging studies, and generating realistic loads for predicting component life and damage.

Based on description alone, both Adams/Solver and MotionSolve appear to be very similar, at least outwardly, don’t they?

Dominic Gallello, President & CEO of MSC Software, sais, “We welcome vigorous competition in the market. Every company has a right to innovate, but no company should be allowed to misappropriate a competitor’s intellectual property. We continue to make significant investments in the Adams technology to serve our customers and maintain our market leading position.”

Frankly, I’m surprised that more suits of this nature are not filed. I’m guessing that it’s because the features and capabilities of many software products (technical and otherwise) are so close in functionality, that it’s hard to tell competing products apart. I imagine, too, with all the partnerships, mergers, acquisitions, and other interactions between parties, proving misappropriation gets more and more difficult (and expensive). Granted, the final award was nice, but this case took almost seven years to conclude, and I doubt with the pace that the technical software community is evolving, that many corporate entities would want to engage in a long-term battle like this. As in most legal matters anymore, the ones that really made out in the end were the lawyers on the winning side for the plaintiff.

Editor’s Note: If there ever were any YouTube videos on Altair’s MotionSolve, they have all been removed except for a couple that remain from Korea. However, there is a recorded MotionSolve webinar available on Altair’s website.

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