While I am not one to sensationalize events in our industry, one subject has come up twice in the past month and so I thought it may be worth a post to remind those who did not witness it first time around or who had forgotten just how crazy our industry can be.
This story is true and I think I have all my facts straight, but please correct me if I am mistaken in any of it, or I have missed out part of the tale. I have left out many details just so that it does not become too long.
It all started back in the late 90’s when Mentor and Quickturn were locked in battle over emulation patents. I am not going to comment on the merits of the case as I was quite heavily tangled up in it myself. Mentor licensed a patent held by Aptix (for those who love the technical details, it was patent no. 5,544,069). The patent was filed in 1989 and granted in 1996 and claims “field programmable” circuit boards that permit computer programmers to reconfigure the electronic components of an integrated circuit. Mentor paid $1.8M for the rights to that patent.
Dr. Amr Mohsen was the Aptix CEO and the sole inventor of their technology. When the patent was asserted against Quickturn he submitted some pages of his log book to validate when he first invented the claim of the patent. However, Quickturn, now part of Cadence noticed some differences between those pages and what had been used to defend the patent originally with the PTO. It appears as if the log book pages had been tampered with. Another unknown and earlier notebook also magically appeared.
In 1998 the court ordered he turn over the originals of the notebooks for forensic analysis. Up until that time Mohsen had claimed that they were locked up in a safe at his house. Then one day he left them in his car, which was broken into and they were stolen. The courts found this suspicious. He provided further evidence of his date of invention in the form of a day planner. Forensics showed that the ink used for some of the entries had not been produced until 1994 and thus they too were fraudulent.
As if by magic, the notebooks were returned by an unknown benevolent person, who just happened to know the correct address to send them. The court decided that the earlier notebook was a complete fabrication and none of it contained valid entries. On the stand Mohsen pleaded the fifth amendment and at this point the court concluded that the patent was invalid and unenforceable.
To cut a long story short, it was later determined by a higher ranking court that the patent was valid, even without any of the fraudulent changes in the log books, although because of the bad faith in the way they were handled, the judge ruled that the case was unenforceable and awarded damages to Quickturn.
Mohsen was charged with conspiracy, perjury, and obstruction of justice. Right before his trail was about to start, Mohsen was arrested while in possession of a passport and $20,000 in cash – which was in violation of his bail agreement. He had been overheard by the FBI making flight arrangements to the Cayman Islands. This added a further case on contempt on his shoulders. He was incarcerated, but this did not stop his chain of misconduct. While in jail, he conspired with another inmate to intimidate witnesses in his trial. That inmate turned on Mohsen, negotiated a decrease in his sentence and became an FBI informant. His requests for intimidation continued, including setting fire to a witness’s car. Finally he tried to get the Judge in the case murdered – although he was later found not guilty of this.
On March 2006, Mohsen was found guilty of 17 charges including conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury, obstruction of justice, contempt, attempted intimidation of witnesses, and solicitation of the arson of a witness’s car. He was sentenced for 17 years and to be followed by 5 years of supervised release.
Aptix finished up filing for bankruptcy and the assets were eventually obtained by Mentor. Mohsen also filed for bankruptcy and was represented by an appointed public defender. He later found enough money to mount an appeal, but this gave him no relief and all convictions were upheld. This is a tale of a brilliant man who was one of the founders of Actel, the founder of Aptix, and who will now spend most of the rest of his life in jail because he didn’t trust that he had been the first to invent something and then let it continue to escalate because he couldn’t stand the shame.
Please remember this tale the next time you are tempted to cover your tracks. You may just be digging yourself deeper.
Brian Bailey – keeping you covered
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