Fortinet Sues Sophos over Executive Pilfering

mikevalentine-sophosSecurity vendor Fortinet (FTNT) has sued smaller rival Sophos, claiming it has been victimized by executive poaching in violation of an existing agreement tied to a key departure from the vendor’s management ranks earlier this year.

The lawsuit, filed Dec. 16 in San Jose, Calif., in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, alleges that Michael Valentine, a former Fortinet top executive who joined Sophos in April as its Worldwide Sales vice president, engineered subsequent, similar moves by a number of his colleagues. The complaint points specifically to three Fortinet employees who left at the same time and another a few months later to join Sophos.

In April, Kendra Krause, Fortinet’s former Channel Sales and Operations vice president, joined Sophos as its new channel chief. Krause is not named in the lawsuit.

Fortinet’s complaint, in which it asks for a jury trial and damages, alleges Valentine breached a clause in his contract upon his exit from the company. According to the court filing, as reported by PC World, Valentine agreed 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.”

In addition to alleging Valentine broke his deal with Fortinet, the company also is claiming Sophos has infringed on three of its security technology-related patents, which PC World report listed as 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.”

Sophos Responds

In response to the lawsuit, Sophos chief Kris Hagerman, in a lengthy blog post, wrote, “We have great respect for Fortinet as a company and as a competitor. But they’ve got this one all wrong.”

Hagerman dismissed what he called “Fortinet’s attempt to retain employees by restricting their freedom to join a successful company like Sophos (or any other company).” He further chided Fortinet, saying if it “wishes to retain their employees we suggest they stop resorting to courtroom and legal tactics they know are without merit, and instead consider what it is that makes Sophos such a desirable place to work.”

The Sophos boss followed with a list of Sophos’ advantages, including its product vision, channel-centric approach and “winning” strategy. Pointing to Sophos’ outpacing the market with a 23 percent uptick in UTM billings in the past two quarters and 12 percent overall growth in the period, he said, “It shouldn’t be a surprise that people want to work for a company like Sophos that is gaining share and making a difference in the market.”

Hagerman closed his blog by adding fuel to the fire.

“I assure you that Sophos will not let ill-conceived and meritless lawsuits stand in the way of delivering powerful IT security solutions,” he said. “Lawsuits like this only confirm that our strategy is attracting the right talent to deliver the products that will keep our customers safe.”

And, he invited worthy candidates to come on over.

“If you think you have what it takes, I invite you to join our cause by applying here.”

This could make for an interesting legal proceeding.

By |December 20, 2013|People on the Move| 15003 Views |

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