I work at a big multinational company as a software developer (security related services) and was part of the development team for a new product.

Now the product is in the market and a few days ago, after work hours, I got a call from a very calm, nice guy who presented itself as a lawyer (I thought it was a recruiter as usual).

He offered me a deal if I cooperate in his case regarding patent infringement regarding this new product, his client is a startup with basically the same thing.

To be honest I think he is right, I heard the company I work for had some meetings with this startup some time ago, and also a time when there were some doubts on how to do something, and management just said "do it as startup X is doing it".

I think I just could ignore his requests and let it roll and see how it goes, I know he needs me (or the information I can provide) so that could be in my advantage, but if his case is strong enough and I don't help they could come after me too.

Location: South America (I'm sure telling the country won't make the answer vary or better, so letting it out for more anonymity)

Question: what can I do today (apart from getting a lawyer myself) regarding; answering to the startup's lawyer, and actions to take in the workplace (ask to be in another role, save proofs, etc).

Feel free to migrate this to legal.SE if better answers could come up there, although I'm already thinking in getting a lawyer.

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    Did you contact your company lawyers? Are you sure your company infringed a patents # this, # that and # that and you personally was involved in that (things like "I have a feeling" and "let's do something similar to what somebody did does not count")? Did you speak to your lawyer? – AlexanderM Jul 25 '19 at 20:37
  • @AlexanderM Did you contact your company lawyers? no I haven't, after this project I don't trust them very much, I wasn't informed on the patent details (neither I asked) so I'm not 100% positive on the infringement, Did you speak to your lawyer? yes, but he directed me to another one specialized in these matters (meeting him next week) – justAGuestNothingMore Jul 26 '19 at 0:24
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    Confused here, in your question you say you are thinking of getting a lawyer, but in your comment you already have one and are about to contact a second... – Solar Mike Jul 26 '19 at 3:49
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    I don't see how this lawyer could come after you. It wasn't you who (possibly) infringed the patent, but the company that you work for. Probably the guy is just looking to sweet talk/bribe you into giving him some vital information to help his case. Also, think twice before disclosing any information to this guy because of some NDA that you might have signed. – undefined Jul 26 '19 at 6:47
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    "I know he needs me (or the information I can provide)" Not really. They will file a lawsuit and a judge will force your company to provide all the information necessary to ensure whether patent infringment occurred or not. They do not need you to say anything now, doing so will only hurt yourself. – Giacomo Alzetta Jul 26 '19 at 7:23

You should let your manager or another trusted leader at your company know that you were approached. Your company should be aware of the actions of this lawyer. Unless your organization did something heinous or to hurt you personally, helping a suit against your employer is likely to cause you trouble now and in the future.

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From a workplace point of view, the answer to this is simple: you escalate this up the management chain, very hard and very quickly. This is the company's problem, not yours - it seems unlikely that you the individual would be personally liable here, but take a lawyer's advice on that if you feel the need.

Do not speak to the startup's lawyer without explicit written authorisation from your employer's legal team, as doing so could cause you legal difficulties with your employer if you could be seen as acting against your employer's interests.

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It's doubtful that, as an employee, you could be in any legal jeopardy. Assuming that this person was telling you the truth they're likely reaching out to as many people as they can to try to scare you into giving them information that helps their case.

Again assuming that this person is telling you the truth, evaluating the legal merits of this potential lawsuit are likely outside of your wheelhouse.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. You should inform your management.

  2. You should NOT engage with this attorney in any way or provide them with ANY information... personal, company, or otherwise.

  3. If this person reaches out to you again you should direct them to your company manager.

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  • For item #1, you inform your manager AND YOUR CORPORATE COUNSEL. – John R. Strohm Jul 25 '19 at 23:42
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    Your manager should do that or should report it to their manager. Corporate counsel, if it exists, is not likely in the OP's chain of command. It's for the OP's manager to escalate the issue to the appropriate people. – joeqwerty Jul 25 '19 at 23:54

Considering that you were just one developer on a team it is incredibly unlikely that the lawyer is only reaching out to you.

A decent lawyer for the startup would likely call every single person that is at least somewhat related to this project. It is incredibly likely that one or more of your coworkers have already sent notice of the call to their managers.

Knowing this, how do you think management will react if you don't also escalate the call?

This is your employers problem, not yours. Give the information about the call to your employer and then forget about it.

Just as important, if you deliver information to this attorney then you are likely violating any agreement you have with your employer. That will only end badly for you.

Next, if you truly believe your employer stole information from the startup then from a moral perspective you should find another job. I, personally, wouldn't want to work for a company that intentionally engaged in such practices.

I know he needs me (or the information I can provide) so that could be in my advantage,

In what way would this be to your advantage? If you provide the information you will likely be fired. Further, the startup probably wouldn't hire you. At best you are looking at a small one time payment, but even that is unlikely because it would come out in trial and the startup's attorney wouldn't want a jury to think you were bought off for testimony.

but if his case is strong enough and I don't help they could come after me too.

Um, no. You really need to get your own attorney that is not related to either of these businesses in any way shape or form. I'm going to guess your statement is based off of something that attorney said. You should realize that attorneys lie.

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    Since the lawyer offered the OP "a deal" if they cooperated, anyone who DOESN'T report this will be suspect. This is the best advice, honestly. – Wesley Long Jul 25 '19 at 23:13
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    I wonder how many multinational companies haven't done anything morally suspect... – Mars Jul 26 '19 at 5:15

You were approached by somebody on the phone that is presenting themselves as a lawyer for a competitor and was told that you (or your company) infringed a patent but by your own admission you were neither given information on what you infringed nor you did ask. At this point you can assume it is some random Joe prankster (phishing attack done by the book). Then you are being rushed into some sort of "deal" for your "cooperation". Honestly this does sound like social engineering attack to get information from you about something.

Since you do not want to talk to your company's lawyers (or legal department) and/or management (I don't think this is right but I understand) you would need to get to your lawyer. Before that I hope you did not say anything. Just listen what other person says over the phone and record it (you might want to inform the person that the conversation is recorded) and present this to your lawyer. Whether you think you are guilty or not do not say anything before you would be instructed by the lawyer. Especially since you are not sure that you infringed something and wasn't given any details. Keep in mind in this world there are such things as corporate espionage, patent trolling and ... invalid patents. Keep in mind software patents is too broad thing, software is like a black box: something gets in, something gets out and there are multiple ways of doing exact same thing. Also keep in mind that even if patent is issued it could be invalidated for multiple reasons (prior art, trivial, etc).

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