It began as a surefire, slam dunk anti-copying law suit, or so Autodesk thought. It had evidence that ZWSOFT of China copied source code from AutoCAD 2008, including code that exhibited a rare bug that occurrs only under a very specific editing procedure involving hatch patterns. The papers Autodesk filed in court listed other bugs as well, and noted that certain dialog boxes look identical in AutoCAD and ZWCAD+.
Autodesk filed the suit in Den Hague, Holland because the court there is known to give same-day judgments. Autodesk had proof, albeit circumstantial, and it wanted the book thrown at ZWSOFT and its Dutch distributor: shut down sales, distribution, marketing, and assess lots of money for damages.
The first sign of a setback for Autodesk came when the two judges said, This is more complex than it looks. They needed a couple of weeks to think about it, and then announced their decision on April 7.
You didn't hear about any of this, because both sides agreed to keep it quiet, so as to not impair the reputation of ZWSOFT and its Dutch distributor -- should they be found not guilty. In the USA, however, Autodesk was plotting a second law suit, and its legal firm (Morrison & Foerster) filed with the Northern California court on March 26 -- ten days before the Dutch court's decision was released.
The cat was out the bag, and I was able to report on the Dutch case. ZWSOFT, for its part, launched a marketing campaign to protect its reputation. For the reputation of the Dutch distributor, however, it is too late -- as he told me in several emotional emails.
(You can read the full decision of the Dutch court at http://marketing.zwsoft.com/marketing/English_Verdict_from_District_Court_The_Hague.pdf. )
The court came to the following conclusions:
- the Dutch distributor of ZWCAD had no role in copying software, and so is exempt from the law suit
- Autodesk cannot claim copyright on dialog boxes
- similar-acting bugs are not definitive proof of copying; the proof can be found only in looking at the actual source code
- ZWSOFT must give a copy of all its ZWCAD+ source code to a mutually-acceptable third-party in China, and Autodesk must pay the cost
The decision elated ZWSOFT and vindicated the Dutch distributor. In the USA, Autodesk has apparently put the second law suit on hold, sources tell me. Be sure that this week's decision in The Netherlands is provisional, and the case continues with the examination of the source code.
The judges' decision hinged on this point:
An expert witness for ZWSOFT showed that the same bugs appeared in versions of ZWCAD built on IntelliCAD. (Autodesk claimed the bugs appeared only in ZWCAD+, a "new, from-the-ground-up" version of the CAD software that ZWSOFT recoded in recent years.) There are two versions of ZWSOFT's software:
- ZWCAD is based on ITC code (up to version 2011)
- ZWCAD+ is based on code that ZWSOFT rewrote (as of version 2012)
The outcome is a severe problem for Autodesk. The American company claims ZWSOFT purloined code from AutoCAD 2008, but the expert witness showed the same bug appears in versions of ZWCAD that shipped prior to 2008.
It is not enough, however, for Autodesk to show that the bug appears in even earlier releases of AutoCAD. Here's why:
The early versions of ZWCAD are based on legal code provided by the IntelliCAD Technical Consortium. ITC got its code from Visio, who got it from Boomerang Technologies, who got it from Autodesk (after the FTC forced Autodesk to give up the IntelliCAD code and coders), who got it accidentally when it acquired Softdesk, who wrote IntelliCADD secretly in fear of Autodesk cutting off access to its developer network, as it had done to another large third-party developer, Cyco International.
(As a side note, ITC recently spent several feverous years removing all Microsoft-owned code from IntelliCAD, the result being a clean IntelliCAD 7. Neither ZWCAD nor ZWCAD+ are based on IntelliCAD 7.)
Here's the nub: if ZWCAD appears to contain code copied from AutoCAD, then Microsoft is to blame, for it still is the copyright owner of the pre-IntelliCAD 7 source code upon which ZWCAD is based. (Now, it is possible that ZWSOFT added code to ZWCAD apart from what it got from ITC, but Autodesk did not allege this.)
Microsoft got ownership of IntelliCAD when it bought Visio, but then it granted an exclusive license to ITC to market, sell, and improve the code. (History: Visio set up the ITC just months before it was bought by Microsoft, but retained the copyright to the source code, which is how Microsoft inherited it -- not ITC.) Microsoft has no interest in CAD, but it continues to own the copyright, curiously enough.
So, if Autodesk is going to sue any AutoCAD workalike over the existence of a seemingly unique hatching bug, then it should sue Microsoft -- which it wouldn't dare.