Long fight ahead on Sybiz copyright stoush

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Adelaide-based accounting software vendor Sybiz has taken a local rival to the Federal Court over an alleged copyright infringement by an ex-employee, in a case that could be drawn out until 2005.

Adelaide-based accounting software vendor Sybiz has taken a local rival to the Federal Court over an alleged copyright infringement by an ex-employee, in a case that could be drawn out until 2005.

CRN has obtained a document sent out by Sybiz Software to its customers, dated 27 October 2003. 'Sybiz Software has detected a competing product in the market that has disturbing similarities with our flagship product Sybiz Vision. The product is known as 'Advanced Business Manager' or "ABM".' it said.

'Sybiz has initiated proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia in relation to what Sybiz Software believes is a copyright infringement by this competitor through the assistance of a former managing director of Sybiz Software Pty Ltd,' the document said.

The document also said that its customers 'should note' that anybody using an infringing software product automatically infringed the copyright of the owner.

'We would therefore like to assist you in ensuring that the software products you utilise in your business will not expose you to legal consequences,' it said.

Peter Whalley, MD of Sybiz Software, said he could not comment further on the case as it was proceeding but confirmed the Sybiz stand outlined in the 27 October document.

'Absolutely. If we feel with any company there has been an infringement, we will pursue that at all levels,' Whalley said. 'We will never stand down on intellectual property.'

George Adamowicz, MD of Business Manager Software, the Victoria-based main distributor of ABM in Australia, said the Irish vendors, Advanced Accounting Software, had assured him that they believed he could safely continue selling the product.

'Every accounting software [package] has got similarities. Our DOS-based software, for example, has got nothing to do with ABM -- they never saw it before they wrote it -- yet there are many things that are similar,' he pointed out.

Adamowicz said it seemed likely the case would not be heard in its entirety until early 2005. 'We are hoping it will be heard earlier but it is in the hands of the courts,' he said.

Business Manager Software had put a letter out, dated 13 November 2003, answering Sybiz's claims. 'It is very easy to make misleading accusations that cast aspersions without foundation, and it happens all too often in politics and in business,' the letter began.

'Sybiz may have believed in all sincerity that ABM infringed its copyright in March this year ... However, ABM is not in any way a copy of Sybiz Vision and in no way does it infringe copyright,' the letter said.

The letter also claimed that the continuance of Sybiz's action -- which was first heard in the Federal Court of Australia in South Australia in March 2003 by Justice von Doussa -- was spreading fear and doubt in the market.

Further, the letter alleged that the accusations were a 'desperate attempt to protect the market of their 10-year-old Vision product from a modern and superior competitor, and to cynically mislead the market for commercial gain.

Business Manager Software stood by that letter, Adamowicz said, but he would not say whether the action had affected ABM sales.

Adamowicz could not confirm whether any former employee or executive of Sybiz Software in Australia been taken on as staff by Advanced Accounting Software in Ireland.

However, a source close to the channel, who declined to be named, told CRN that he believed that the ex-Sybiz director involved was now living in Ireland.

Adamowicz said ABM had started selling in Australia in April 2003. Business Manager Software had no relation to Irish ISV Advanced Accounting Software other than the channel partnership. The distributor sold products from various business software vendors -- although not from Sybiz Software, he said.

ABM's maker Advanced Accounting Software in Ireland was contacted for comment but had not responded at the time of going to press.

Sybiz Software is an Australian company owned by South African firm Softline since 1998, which was in its turn acquired in November 2003 by the UK's Sage Group. A request to Softline for Sybiz's final half-year financial results -- which were to be publicly released in November -- was still unanswered at press-time.

However, Softline's annual report for the year ending March 2003 claimed revenue was up on the 2001-02 fiscal year by 31 percent to 636 million rand, including profit after tax of just over nine million rand. Earnings per share were up 8 percent to 23 South African cents.

Australian operations contributed 32 percent of that 2002-03 revenue, up from 13 percent in the 2001-02 financial year, the annual report said.

Sybiz claims to have about 300 channel partners in Australia and about 50,000 business customers for its accounting software packages worldwide.

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