The Spatial Versus Autodesk Lawsuit -- Was Justice Truly Served?

While this November 2001 date concurs with programmer's Kershaw timeline, in earlier testimony from Autodesk's Mollon, he testified that negotiations for new contract began between Autodesk and D-Cubed late September of 2001, before the infamous "drop Inventor" meeting. Inventor 5.3, the first version to use ShapeManager was released on January 30, 2002, but it is built on top of ACIS with over 2,500 connection points to it. So if the Autodesk relationship with D-Cubed started in November, was it possible to do get everything working technically and work out a contract, by late January? Who knows? However, if the relationship started in September, then this timeframe makes more sense.

On the witness stand, Spatial representatives said not only did the product and service improve after Dassault Systemes took over, but in its first major point release of ACIS, version 7, several million dollars was dedicated to fixing Autodesk bug requests and adding specific features for Inventor. Spatial thought they had an informal deal with Autodesk and that if they addressed these needs, Autodesk would re-negotiate the contract. Not only did new contract never happen, but Autodesk didn't use release 7 in Inventor -- it only used it as a foundation for ShapeManager. As far as the "drop Inventor" quote, Mike Payne claims that this is how business is sometimes done and after the trial I talked to him and he compared it to how Dassault Systemes ended up buying SolidWorks in 1997, pointing out how that acquisition started out as a casual comment by a Dassault executive over lunch and ended up as a full-fledged business deal. In court, Spatial did not address the possible Autodesk non-access to CATIA technology, but Payne told me after the trail that this was regarding an ACIS husk (add-on) that was never supposed to be inside the core of the kernel anyway.

In short, Spatial's main answer to Autodesk's charges, and what they stressed in their closing statements, was that none of this mattered, because it didn't have anything to do with the 1991 contract. Technically, I feel they were right, because while it seems that Spatial was trying to bully Autodesk into working them a sweeter deal financially, this doesn't give Autodesk the right to breach the contract, if that is what they indeed did.

So did they? A jury said no (more on them later). It really depends on how you interpret the contract. (So get yourself a copy of it and curl up with it by the fireplace)

Conspiracy Theories
Spatial said that not only did Autodesk break the contract, but it was planning on sharing the profits of their newly developed joint technology with D-Cubed "behind Spatial's back". However, Spatial had no documents or testimony in court to prove this. Autodesk feels that the entire Dassault Systemes acquisition of Spatial was a plot to "get Inventor off the market, because it cuts into their profits" in the words of Carl Bass. As Bass puts it, EDS doesn't ask Dassault Systemes to drop SolidWorks and resell Solid Edge, just because it makes the kernel SolidWorks is built upon.

Despite Spatial's claim that he didn't know what he was talking about, I think it was Dick Sowar's testimony that hurt Spatial the most in the eyes of the jury. To me, it seemed they could relate to him, because I'm not sure they knew what anyone was talking about. However, can you blame them? Nine days and about 30 hours of testimony spread out over four weeks. Scores of names thrown out at them -- so many that on the sixth day of the trail, the judge, whom I considered to be very sharp, asked the lawyers to write the names of the key players for Autodesk, Spatial and D-Cubed on a board which soon filled up with over 30 names -- and that wasn't all of them. There were also names of many other CAD companies mentioned, more acronyms than you could count, dozens of witnesses both live and via video tape and both sides each sent the jury back to review over 40 exhibits (contracts, emails, faxes, notes and so on). The two alternate jurors had been spent (one got sick and the other had to go on vacation) and other jurors were complaining how they had business they had to attend to real soon. So despite all this information and the judge's instructions to go into the jury room with an open mind and to review all the data presented, a verdict was returned in less than two hours. No matter what one's feelings were, one way or another, I think the matter deserved more deliberation than it received.

Again, I don't blame them. The deliberations could have, like the trial, gone on forever. For every point made by one witness, there seemed to a counterpoint. However, all I can do is leave you with this to consider -- most of Autodesk's key witness either still work for Autodesk or have business with them, whereas key Spatial witnesses like Hansen and Cunningham don't even work in the CAD industry anymore.

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