I worked on an open source software for a startup and now I am not their employee. I have developed an open source software in the same technology, serving the same purpose.

What can be legal implications of launching this software that will be in competition (indirectly) with my previous employer's software?

P.S. This software will be totally free (no direct income other than donations) and will be released in the same free software repository where many other software serving this same function exist (including that of my previous employer)

  • Well, we can't really do legal questions here. Having said that, the biggest question is whether or not you have a non-compete agreement with your old company and if so, is it still in effect? – Chris E Nov 5 '14 at 20:18
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    @raj - they don't need to know who you are to sue "owner of XYZ clone". Also, this is offtopic for the site; we are not lawyers. – Telastyn Nov 5 '14 at 20:26
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    They just name "owner of XYZ clone" in the lawsuit and then use the discovery process to subpoena the information from any providers that you are using. It's pretty common and pretty easy. – Chris E Nov 5 '14 at 20:42
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    There are at least two issues here. 1) Whether your employment agreement permits you to do this and 2) whether you used any company secrets in your new software. Don't rule out the possibility that they may sue you just to keep you from releasing the code. They don't have to win the lawsuit, just prevent you from releasing it while they drag out the lawsuit until you starve. – DJClayworth Nov 5 '14 at 21:16
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    Because they suspect there is something wrong. If they feel someone is interfering with their business, do you think they just accept that without striking back? That's very naïve. BTW, thinking that you can finance anything by donations is equally naïve. People don't pay if they don't have to. – gnasher729 Nov 5 '14 at 23:06

You have to read your employment agreement. Some companies do not allow you to develop competitive software until about a year after you leave. That is the way my contract is with my company.

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    And then having read it, if you don't like it you can consult an employment lawyer to see whether or not the restrictive clauses are actually enforceable against you in the relevant jurisdiction. – Steve Jessop Nov 5 '14 at 21:01

If you release it while working for the company there is a reasonable expectation that you developed it whilst in their employ and as such the may have a claim on the development. They would be entitled to not allow its release to the market.

If nothing else if you were working for me and I found out, you'd be looking for new job pretty sharpish. Undermining the company's profitability, working for a competing enterprise, all sorts of nasty stuff!

  • The question specifically says the company in question is a former employer, not current. – Andrew Medico Nov 5 '14 at 21:59
  • He might not want to employee someone who did this to his previous employer either. – gnasher729 Jun 4 '15 at 15:41

As a worst case, the company could claim you stole their source code, file criminal charges, and have you arrested. Sergey Aleynikov was accused of this by Goldman Sachs and spent nearly a year in prison even though the charges were eventually thrown out.

Less extremely, the company might claim copyright infringement and file a civil suit. Jail time would not be at stake here, but you could still waste a lot of time in court and money on a lawyer - even if they did not prevail.

  • -1 - the guy in question did steal company code, but didn't do anything with it to compete with Goldman. OP doesn't mention stealing company code, but is trying to compete with his former company – bharal Nov 5 '14 at 23:55

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