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Forumware giant vBulletin sues ex-devs (again)

XenForo vows defeat of 'trade secrets' claim

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Internet forumware giant vBulletin has filed a second lawsuit against its former lead developer, who recently launched his own forum platform with the UK-based startup XenForo. With the new suit, vBulletin claims copyright infringement, breach of contract, and misappropriation of trade secrets.

XenForo and its lead developer, ex-vBulletin man Kier Darby, deny both suits in their entirety and "expects the claims to be defeated."

Last month, just before the XenForo beta was set to go on sale, vBulletin and its parent company, Internet Brands, filed suit in the UK against XenForo and three former vBulletin employees: former vBulletin lead developer and product manager Darby; Mike Sullivan, another former developer; and former business manager Ashley Busby. Now, vBulletin has filed a similar suit in California that names XenForo and Darby.

The new suit claims "widespread infringement and unlawful exploitation" of vBulletin's copyrighted software and "equally damaging misappropriation of trade secrets" developed by vBulletin and its related companies "through investments of millions of dollars over the last ten years." It alleges that before he left vBulletin, Darby "increased his access" to the company's confidential information and refused to return it when he resigned. Because of this and other reasons, the suit says, Darby breached his contract with vBulletin.

When they left the company, the suit alleges, Darby and Sullivan "took with them virtually every type of document a competitor would need to enter the market and unlawfully create a competing bulletin board software program." vBulletin did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but it has previously discussed the first suit with The Reg, denying that the suit was timed to coincide with the launch of the XenForo beta.

After the California suit was filed, XenForo posted a message to its website alerting users. "We deny these claims in their entirety, and have strong evidence to support our position," Darby wrote. "We will defend our position, and expect the claims to be defeated."

Darby, Sullivan, and Busby split with vBulletin in 2009, roughly two years after Internet Brands acquired the forum-software company, which runs online communities on 40,000 sites across the web. A year after they left the company, the trio registered the XenForo domain.

In the past, Darby has said that the XenForo platform was built "from scratch" using the Zend PHP framework. After the first suit was filed, vBulletin sent a letter to XenForo requesting it halt the release of its product — "it isn't a legal request per se," vBulletin told us — and XenForo ignored the request, launching its platform after only a slight delay.

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