Let’s Think – The Real Reason for Internet Brands v. xenForo

Let’s do some analysis now on their famous posting.

Internet Brands today has commenced a lawsuit in the courts of England and Wales against Xenforo, and its founders, Kier, Mike and Ashley. The lawsuit is about these claims: infringement of our copyrighted intellectual property, breach of contract, and unfair business practices.

The suit is simple: we claim that Kier, Mike, and Ashley have infringed and violated contracts they signed with us to gain unfair business advantage. As such, Xenforo’s software unfairly stands on the shoulders of more than a decade of development by Jelsoft. Internet Brands owns this intellectual property.

Let’s translate this: Internet Brands is filing a lawsuit because it does not want to admit that Kier was right. Kier proposed at vBulletin 3.6 to do a complete rewrite of vBulletin to commence vBulletin 4. After a few trips to headquarters in El Segundo, CA and presenting to senior management the need for a complete rewrite, he was shot down and that agile development would commence on vBulletin 4, making subsequent revisions of vBulletin done in segments in order to continue releasing versions.

Yet here we are, over a year later, and we see that vBulletin 4 is completely flawed still. vBulletin still continues to have teething issue. Its agile methodology has fallen on its face more than once, and customers are in a complete uproar, and near riot conditions.

What’s wrong with refactoring? It’s difficult to refactor a complex application such as vBulletin because everything is linked together. You change one thing, and you need to change another. If you don’t properly change things, you break things. Things that you don’t refactor in time, you need to write a bridging code in order for things to continue to function properly. Forget to document those bits of interim code and you create problems down the line. In fact you could have several pieces of interim code designed to hold the fort down just to make sure the software works while you redesign things. See the problem? It’s the same as trying to ride the boat, build the boat, all the while mending the cracks in the boat that happen from building the boat.

Yet on the xenForo side, we have a brand new, completely robust platform, that has garnered the attention of the forum industry. Customers and Developers alike from open source platforms, to commercial platforms have flocked to xenForo and recognize that xenForo is not merely a brand new kid on the block. It is one that offers a significant competitive advantage against existing solutions.

The filing by Internet Brands only validates the fact that Kier, Mike and Ashley have produced a forum solution that scares them and that any strategic advantages they once had with the vBulletin brand has evaporated overnight. Even the escalation of features that were slated for version 4.1 have been escalated to version 4.0.8.

What Kier, and Mike coded is evidence to disprove that agile development in this very instance, is counter-productive. A clean rewrite was needed and that by essentially doing a clean rewrite, they have been able to address many issues as well as not bring any of the baggage and problems from the old forum system.

Is doing a clean rewrite an infringement of intellectual property?

Flat out No.

Is adopting an MVC approach for forums intellectual property?

No. Other applications use MVC.

Breach of Contract?

I can not comment since I’ve never seen the contract however it would not surprise me that lawyers have been involved from the start to ensure no breach of contract occurred.

Unfair business practices?

This is what I call throwing everything on the wall and hoping something sticks. This is essentially what Internet Brands is doing. Throwing a lawsuit and hope it sticks to cause enough problems legally as well as well as possible sink their problems in drawn out litigation or put extreme burden financially on xenForo that it forces Kier, Mike, Ashley and xenForo to file for bankruptcy.

It stands on a decade of development by Jelsoft? – Kinda true.

Remember for the last two years, Internet Brands team has been responsible for development of vBulletin. And look what we’ve gotten. Regression in a number of forum features and a CMS that is so difficult to use, it’s the same as driving a car with two steering wheels and both drivers are trying to drive it in a particular direction.

Does Internet Brands own Intellectual Property?

It most certainly does. Does it own the forum concept? No. It’s blowing smoke. It’s using wonderful fancy terms to hide the fact they screwed up. Notice the fact they do not mention what intellectual property they own. They use it in such a vague way to avoid the matter at hand.

We claim that Kier, Mike, and Ashley have infringed and violated contracts they signed with us to gain unfair business advantage.

Oh please. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Internet Brands acquired Jelsoft back in 2007. They were Jelsoft employees and Internet Brands retained them. Certainly they renewed their contracts with Internet Brands, but that’s as far as it went. They did not swear their allegiance to Internet Brands. They most certainly did not sign their lives Internet Brands. They promised to work with Internet Brands. Did they? Yes. Even up to the last days of their employment were they committing code.

Note the fact they LEFT Jelsoft and Internet Brands by June 19, 2009. I say by, only because of the phrasing in that post by Steve Machol. For what it’s worth, Ashley left Internet Brands months before, with Scott, Mike and Kier following weeks later. xenForo was not incorporated until June 24, 2010. Even the most well written non-compete clauses stipulates they can not work for a competitor for a period of time, usually being one year. Usually, and the keyword is usually, anything above one year is invalidated by courts mainly because it becomes unreasonable for an employee to not work elsewhere for anytime beyond that.

Kier, Mike and Ashley have yet to poach any customers from Internet Brands (poach meaning they goto vBulletin.com, vBulletin.org or any other Internet Brands owned website and say look here is xenForo), nor can Internet Brands can enforce an embargo barring Kier, Mike and Ashley from working for any other internet firm, whether it be development, or having a presence there doing tech support or doing sales. That is completely unreasonable.

Continue reading page 3