Cisco sues employees of Norwegian startup for theft of trade secrets

Billionaire investor OJ Winge among defendants in suit against video-conferencing startup, Neat

Norwegian video-conferencing startup, Neat, is being sued by teleconferencing giant, Cisco following a December raid on the bourgeoning company’s offices, reports Norwegian newspaper, Dagen Naeringsliv.  Last year, Neat partnered with Cisco’s competitor, Zoom, to create proprietary hardware. Cisco is suing for theft of trade secrets. 

At the heart of the dispute are billionaire OJ Winge, Neat’s product manager, and his investment partner, Fredrik Halvorsen, who together sold Tanberg and Acano to Cisco in 2010 and 2015, respectively. The duo is also currently heavily involved in the investment company, Ubon Partners. Cisco contends that according to agreements that Winge and Halvorsen signed they “are not allowed to establish competing businesses or recruit people to such companies from the US giant,” DN and Shifter report. Neat’s Co-Founder and CEO, Simen Teigre, is also named as a defendant in the suit. 

Last December, Norwegian authorities arrived unannounced on Winge and Teigre’s doorsteps following a ruling from Asker and Bærum district court. Searches were also served on former Cisco employees, Simen Andresen and Chiao-Ling Liao, who are currently Neat’s designer and engineer, respectively. According to Shifter, “the raid seized content from the defendants’ computers, cell phones, as well as personal cloud storage services and emails.”

In a statement issue to Dagen Naeringsliv, Cisco’s said, “We have initiated a legal process against Neat and former employees for violating intellectual property rules. As a first step, the authorities have secured evidence from Neat and the people linked to Cisco’s lawsuits. As one might expect, we act resolutely to protect Cisco’s significant investment in research and development and valuable intellectual property.”

The defendants have all rejected Cisco’s claims. The case will be heard in Asker and Bærum district court later this spring.

Cisco has been aggressive in pursuing potential theft of its business secrets. In November 2019, Bloomberg reported that three former Cisco employees were being sued after resigning their posts and joining an unnamed competitor. Cisco claims that the defendants in that suit downloaded and photographed company documents containing information about the company’s 5G technology and design specifications for a video-conferencing prototype. That case is being handled in the San Jose, California, courts. 

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