Fortinet sues Sophos over alleged employee poaching

The lawsuit follows the departure of several executives from Fortinet to Sophos

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Tue, December 17, 2013

IDG News Service (San Francisco Bureau) — Fortinet, one of the biggest computer security vendors, is suing rival Sophos alleging it poached senior staff in breach of an agreement signed when a Fortinet executive jumped ship to Sophos earlier this year.

At the center of the case, filed on Monday in federal court in San Jose, California, is the departure of Michael Valentine , a top sales executive at Fortinet. He left the company in February this year for a similar job at Sophos.

According to Fortinet's complaint, Valentine was followed to Sophos by "numerous important Fortinet employees, including senior executives" in the two months after he left. Three left Fortinet in the same week and another followed several months later, the complaint says.

Fortinet alleges the employee moves were the direct result of solicitation by Valentine, something that was against an agreement he signed upon leaving Fortinet.

"I also agree that for twelve months from this date, I will not directly or indirectly solicit, induce, recruit or encourage any of [Fortinet's] employees to leave their employment," the agreement read in part, according to the court filing.

The complaint goes on to allege that the other executives went on to solicit additional Fortinet employees to leave the company in breach of similar agreements they signed.

Breach of contract is one of the five claims being asserted by Fortinet against Sophos and Valentine, who is named in the suit. Fortinet is also claiming intentional interference with a contract, related to the alleged inducements to the other former Fortinet staffers to attract others to Sophos.

The case also includes three patent infringement claims, over U.S. patents 7,698,744, "Secure system for following the execution of authorized computer program code"; and U.S. patents 8,069,487 and 8,195,938, "Cloud-based application whitelisting."

Fortinet is asking the court for a jury trial and damages.

Sophos could not immediately be reached for comment.

The case is 13-0581, Fortinet vs Sophos and Michael Valentine, at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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