There can be few things more upsetting to a software author than seeing their ideas appearing, as if by magic, in a competing product. If that comes hard on the heels of the exit of key staff or the breakdown of a commercial relationships its hard to avoid the suspicion that something untoward has gone on.
If you find yourself in this situation it’s important to react quickly, but to do it carefully and logically. The law around intellectual property, known as IP, is complex, and the approach to use will vary considerably depending on what appears to have happened.
The Intellectual Property Office provides a good basic overview but you must take legal advice from someone with IP experience. This is a specialist area and advice from a non-specialist solicitor or barrister really won’t be sufficient.
A common barrier to resolving IP disputes is that companies are understandably reluctant to allow a competitor access to source code or development systems, a reluctance that often fuels suspicion and can lead to premature legal action being taken, just to gain access.
The simplest way to resolve access issues is to appoint an independent expert, with experience of the appropriate technology and comparison techniques, who can be given access to both systems. They can then analyse the two systems, typically by comparing source code, user interfaces and database designs, and reach a conclusion on what, if any, copying there has been.
In my experience, this approach can, and often does, lead to a swift resolution of any issues while limiting the impact to both businesses.