Santa Cruz, Calif. If you're partial to ironies, you don't need fiction life itself provides plenty. Consider, for example, the case of Mitsuru (Mitch) Igusa.
The electronic design automation veteran is now a senior architect at his former employer Cadence Design Systems Inc. a company from which he stole trade secrets, according to a 2001 conviction.
"I don't think anyone dislikes me," Igusa said of his workplace. "I'm pretty easy to get along with, friendly and low-key. I joke about things. I don't conceal, because everybody knows."
What "everybody knows" is that Igusa pleaded no contest in May 2001 to charges he stole Cadence source code, and then served a year in Santa Clara County jail. As a participant in the facility's work-release program, Igusa was able to hold on to his job at EDA startup Silicon Perspective Corp., which he had joined in 1996.
When Cadence bought SPC in 2001, it retained Igusa, although doing so involved some "soul searching," said Cadence's chairman, Ray Bingham. But in the end the San Jose, Calif., EDA giant decided that Igusa had been punished for his crime and deserved a second chance.
"It was very strange," Igusa recalled recently, "but they treated me pretty well. There was a legal hassle, but it was more business than personal.
"We worked out an agreement, and everything turned out pretty well."
Few would have guessed at such an outcome back in 1995, when Igusa who had left Cadence the year before to work as an independent consultant was charged with six felony counts after source code for Cadence's FRoute and QPlace programs was allegedly found in a police search of his home. Igusa, who was accused of selling the source code to Cadence's archrival, Avanti Corp., became one of seven co-defendants in what became perhaps the highest-profile criminal case the EDA industry has ever seen.
Although prosecutors presented the canceled checks as evidence of Igusa's guilt, he maintains that it didn't really happen that way. Igusa acknowledged that he provided code to Avanti, but said it wasn't copied Cadence code and that he didn't believe it contained trade secrets.
"The thing is, when you write code, it's similar to what you wrote before," Igusa said. "Then they start matching things and say it's copied. It happens everywhere. It's hard to tell when it's copied or not."
Asked if he thought he had done anything wrong in 1994, Igusa replied, "I wouldn't say that, exactly. I did have some things on my computer when I left Cadence that I shouldn't have had. That I felt bad about."
Indeed, Igusa said he doesn't think the criminal case was unjust. "I looked at all the documents, and there was a lot of evidence," he said. "It was very scary. I didn't want to go to trial."
Scary is one word for it.
At one time Igusa was facing up to six years behind bars more than any of the other Avanti defendants. That's because he wouldn't agree up front to a fixed period of jail time, as the other defendants had. Igusa chose instead to take his chances with the judge.
The gamble paid off. In June 2001, he was sentenced to a year in county lockup and allowed to participate in the work-release program. Under that regimen, Igusa left the jail every workday for his job at SPC and returned in the evening.
"It's the first time I ever worked regular hours," Igusa recalled. "They used to be very erratic, and longer."
Igusa was partway through the work-release program when Cadence bought SPC. Igusa said he became the startup's first employee when he asked founder Ping Chao for employment in 1996, in the midst of the intense media scrutiny of the Avanti case.
"I was unemployed and desperately looking for a job," Igusa said.
Chao, who was at PiE Design Systems at the time, didn't have any work there, but asked Igusa if he wanted to join a startup. Initially, Igusa said, he worked on a compiled-code simulator; then SPC switched gears and targeted the floor-planning market.
Ultimately Igusa played a key role in developing what has become one of the EDA industry's most successful products: the First Encounter prototyping system.
Today, Igusa is working on the FE-GPS physical-synthesis product within Cadence's SoC Encounter platform, of which First Encounter is a part. And since he worked at Cadence for eight years prior to leaving in 1994, he has a fair amount of seniority.
"When I came back after the merger, they actually gave me my years of service prior to the arrest, and the years that I was at SPC," Igusa said. "I'm coming up on 15 years a couple of months from now."