The Moscow office of Nginx, the development of which is used by Netflix and Facebook, came with searches. The founders were questioned and released with the status of witnesses in a criminal case, a source tells Forbes. The initiator of the case is a Cypriot company associated with Alexander Mamut
Created by former Rambler employees Igor Sysoev and Maxim Konovalov, Nginx is one of the most famous and successful IT startups with Russian roots. In March 2019, the us company F5 bought Nginx for $670 million. the Company developed the Nginx web server, which is used by IT giants such as Facebook. Netflix, Apple, Yandex and many others, more than 350 million sites in total.
However, in the news reports on December 12, she was not in connection with the next business success — in the Moscow office of the company with searches came the police. The reason for the search was the claims of Sysoev and Konovalov’s former employer, Rambler, which claimed its intellectual property rights to Nginx.
Nginx web server Is a b2b product that companies can use as an independent web server or as a mail proxy to forward web requests to other servers. Nginx solution allows you to distribute the load on the site so that it can simultaneously use a large number of visitors, and the site itself can handle many requests in parallel.
“Mask show” in the office
Igor Ippolitov, who calls himself an employee of the company, first reported about the searches in the Moscow office of Nginx on his Twitter account. “In nginx search. They say Sysoev stole nginx from Rambler, ” he wrote (the spelling of the original post is preserved. – Forbes). Ippolitov also posted photos of the search warrant (he later deleted the posts). According to the resolution, searches were carried out in the business center at the address Usachev, house 33 p. 1. According to SPARK, there is an office of LLC “Enginix”, the CEO of which is one of the creators of Nginx Maxim Konovalov, and the owner is the American F5. Forbes was unable to reach Ippolitov on Thursday.
According to a Forbes source in Nginx, the search began at 11: 25 GMT — plainclothes investigators and masked officers came to the office. “The General Director of the Moscow legal entity Maxim Konovalov and, apparently, Igor Sysoev were detained, — the source told Forbes. According to Ippolitov, Konovalov and Sysoev were taken away for questioning. Later, a source Forbes said that Konovalov and Sysoev were released from the police-they are not charged, in the case they are held as witnesses.
Sysoev lives permanently in Moscow and works in a local office, a source told Forbes in the company. The us office of F5 has been notified of what is happening, he said. A spokesman for F5 declined to comment, explaining that the company continues to ” collect facts.” Mobile phones Sysoeva and Konovalov disconnected.
Damage by 51 million rubles
According to the published Ippolitov decision on the search, on December 4, the Main investigation Department of the Ministry of internal Affairs in Moscow opened a criminal case under part 3 of article 146 of the criminal code (“violation of copyright and related rights”). According to the plot of the case, “unidentified persons” from among the employees of Rambler developed the Nginx program no later than October 2004 during working hours and on behalf of the Rambler management. At the same time,” unidentified persons “with intent to infringe copyright indicated that the exclusive right to the program belongs to Igor Sysoev, while, according to Rambler, the program was a “service work” and the exclusive rights to it should have belonged to the company. After that, “persons” freely distributed the program on the Internet, and in July 2011 transferred the exclusive rights to Nginx to the British virgin Islands-registered company Nginx Inc. This contract, as well as the free distribution of Nginx, in the plot of the case are characterized as illegal. Rambler’s damage from all these actions as of July 2011 (the same year Sysoev left the company) is estimated at 51.4 million rubles, according to the ruling.
“We found that the exclusive right of Rambler Internet holding to the NGINX web server was violated as a result of the actions of third parties. in this regard, Rambler Internet holding ceded the rights to present claims and lawsuits related to the violation of rights to NGINX to Lynwood Investments CY Ltd, which has the necessary competence to restore justice in the issue of ownership of rights,” Rambler’s press service said in response to a request from Forbes. Lynwood Investments CY Ltd is a Cypriot entity associated with Rambler co-owner Alexander Mamut F 42 (through which he, in particular, owned the British bookstore chain Waterstones). Mamut himself was on the jury on December 12 at the demodne of Sberbank’s joint acceleration program with 500 Startups. However, in the middle of the day Mamut, as journalist Dmitry Filonov wrote in his telegram channel The Edinorog, left the event. Forbes sent a request to Lynwood Investments.
The press service of Rambler’s other major shareholder, Sberbank, declined to comment. According to a Forbes source in Nginx, earlier Rambler had no questions for the company. The press service of the interior Ministry asked to send a written request.
In an interview with the magazine “Hacker” in 2012, Igor Sysoev said that in Rambler he worked as a system administrator, and in his spare time he wrote programs. “It should be noted that my job responsibilities programming was not included,” — said Sysoev. Nginx, according to Sysoev, he began to develop in the spring of 2002. “In 2003, my development was discovered outside Rambler, and, moreover, Nginx began to be used on several sites,” he recalled. In 2004, according to Sysoev, one of his colleagues, Oleg Bunin (he worked in Rambler as a lead developer), asked him to finish the functionality of proxying requests in Nginx for the service that was running then Foto.rambler.ru.
Former Rambler Executive Director Igor Ashmanov told Forbes that he personally hired Igor Sysoev to the company as a system administrator in 2000. “Then it was agreed that he has his own open-source project and Rambler was given permission to use it, the agreement was such,” says Ashmanov, who left Rambler in 2001. At the same time, according to him, Oleg Bortunov, the Creator of Postgres Professional, worked in Rambler. “Search is a very cool thing, there are cool people working there, each of them had some kind of project, it was considered absolutely normal. As a rule, these projects were open source and absolutely free. “Rambler” was profitable that such people worked there, ” says Ashmanov. He adds that “Rambler” has no official tasks or papers that someone instructed Sysoev to develop Nginx, can not be, since Sysoev was not a software developer. “This lawsuit is unfounded and empty. If it is necessary, I am ready to testify in court that Sysoev had an agreement to work on his own project, ” Ashmanov added.
Rambler does not agree with this position. “NGINX is a service work, the development of which since the early 2000s in the framework of labor relations with Rambler was engaged in Igor Sysoev, so any use of this program without the consent of Rambler Group is a violation of the exclusive right,” the press service of the company noted.
When Sysoev left Rambler, no one objected, continues Ashmanov: “some lawyers after buying Rambler Sberbank decided to curry favor.” “All these agreements [on intellectual property] at Sysoev were reached with Potanin (Rambler was a part of his holding “ProfMedia”). Mamut bought “Rambler” in 2014, and a very long time looking for evidence. They started doing this a long time ago, but the Rambler case is in such a state that it was not easy to find evidence. It has nothing to do with the arrival of Sberbank,” a source close to Rambler explains to Forbes.
The conflict between Rambler and Nginx is not a very typical case for both Russian and international markets, says Alexander Zemlyak, analyst at LETA Capital venture Fund. “Our corporations, which participate in venture investments, have started to show themselves actively in the legal field,” he said. Rambler decided to make a claim only now, because “the smell of money”: their former employee earned well and they decided to understand the legal field, says Countryman.
A lot depends on F5-obviously, when passing due diligence before buying Nginx, this issue should have been raised internally, says Countryman. In terms of buying Nginx should have been fixed risks associated with Rambler, said analyst LETA Capital. “If F5 defended itself properly, then the founder of the company will have problems in the event that Rambler can produce evidence.” At the same time, according to the Countryman, civil disputes should be resolved in the appropriate qualification, and not transferred to the criminal plane.
Punishment under part 3 of article 146 of the criminal code — imprisonment for up to 6 years with a fine of up to 500 000 rubles or forced labor for up to five years. According to the lawyer and partner of the bar Association “Yukov and partners” Alina Topornina, the case will primarily analyze the documents that Sysoev signed with Rambler when he was hired by the company and when the rights to its development were transferred.
To understand whether Rambler’s claims are legitimate, it is necessary to analyze in detail the provisions of Sysoev’s employment contract and all internal corporate agreements that he signed, forward Legal lawyer Fyodor Zakabunya agrees. According to him, if Sysoev is involved in the case as a defendant, and then the position of Rambler will be supported by the court, this may be one of the grounds for challenging the deal with F5.