Whatever didn't happen to Microsoft's Marc Brown?
The Microsoft/Sendo battle is the thing that is definitely on everybody's lips, here at Cannes 3GSM. And one question has many people here puzzled: "Whatever happened to Marc Brown?" - or more accurately, what didn't happen to him?.
Marc Brown, for those who didn't read the trial transcripts, was a Microsoft employee, who was Microsoft's official nominee to the Board of phone maker Sendo.
He was given the job because Microsoft bought 5% or so of Sendo's shares, as part of their "strategic partnership" which ended in tears last October/November, and in fisticuffs soon after. That was when Sendo cancelled the contract, and then sued Microsoft for a long list of horrible things, including fraud.
But from the date when the "alliance" was announced, Brown was on the board of Sendo. Nobody disputes that much. And he was also still employed by Microsoft; that, too, isn't in dispute.
My question to Microsoft is this: Does Marc Brown, director of Microsoft's corporate development and strategy group, still have a job at Microsoft?
For some reason, this question has an answer which is top secret. After gossip here at Cannes, I think I understand why: and the clue, people are saying, comes in Microsoft's counter-suit against Sendo.
Here's the problem. Sendo pulled out of the deal to produce the Z100 smartphone, on the grounds that Microsoft was trying to bankrupt the phone company, and steal its secrets - and that it had, in fact, already pre-empted this coup by giving these secrets to Taiwanese hardware builder, HTC.
The trick, according to Sendo's court statement, was in the contract. The deal between Microsoft and Sendo said that Microsoft would give Sendo money to build the phone, and provide software to make it work. Sendo would build the phone, and deliver it by end October 2002. If this didn't happen, then Sendo would be in breach of contract. And (the sting) - if Sendo at any stage went bust, all its assets would become the property of Microsoft.
Microsoft, says Sendo, deliberately attempted to bankrupt the smaller company; because it didn't deliver the software necessary to make the phone work, and wouldn't provide the money until the phone worked - thus effectively starving Sendo of working capital, and forcing it into bankruptcy.
That much is all in the official claim. And the counter claim, by Microsoft, is that Sendo was in financial trouble, and hid this from Microsoft which, when it found out, naturally tried to have Sendo wound up to protect its interests.
What people here in Cannes can't understand, is how this was concealed from Microsoft.
As far as anybody can find out, Marc Brown - a Microsoft employee - attended every Sendo Board meeting, at which the ongoing financial situation with Microsoft was widely discussed.
There are minutes of every Board meeting. They are on file. Marc Brown, therefore, knew everything there was to know, surely?
So if Microsoft didn't know what Marc Brown knew, we have some interesting options. Either, Brown carelessly forgot to mention the impending financial disaster which threatened Sendo, which many employers would regard as culpable misbehaviour. Or, alternatively, Brown deliberately concealed these figures from Microsoft and was a party to the fraud. Or, perhaps, he slept through all the Board meetings.
Whichever way, the question comes back to the one we started with. If Brown failed to notice, or failed to report, the significance of these figures, it would sound to most of us like a severe dereliction of duty - with the phrase "culpable and severe misconduct" often mentioned in conversations here in Cannes. Indeed, most HR staff would find such behaviour hard to forgive.
So is Microsoft employing him? Still? And if so, wouldn't this ever so slightly suggest that Microsoft doesn't honestly think there was any fraud at all, but that it is simply a way of drawing out the lawsuit?
Or are we discovering a hitherto unsuspected soft, forgiving, and warm cuddly-bunny side to Microsoft?
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