Autodesk and ZWSoft settle IP suit

Nov 18, 2015 | Hot Topics

Autodesk and ZWSoft, maker of ZWCAD, just announced that they have settled their dispute over who improperly used what intellectual property (IP). According to Autodesk, ZWSoft “discovered that an employee had … improperly used AutoCAD intellectual property developing ZWCAD+. As a result of this discovery, ZWSoft’s CEO, Truman Du, has publicly acknowledged ZWSoft’s error and agreed to stop selling, licensing, or otherwise making available ZWCAD+ from all markets, effective immediately. The parties have entered into a binding settlement to resolve their pending lawsuits, with an undisclosed sum provided to Autodesk.”

For its part, ZWSoft CEO, Truman Du, said that “We respect every company’s IP very much, and we do not condone these behaviors at ZWSoft. We have stopped selling ZWCAD+ in all markets, and we retract all prior statements suggesting that Autodesk’s lawsuits lack merit and were brought for anti-competitive purposes. We sincerely apologize to Autodesk for the inconvenience that our actions have caused … We appreciate very much Autodesk’s professionalism and understanding during the investigation, as well as its encouragement of fair competition. We will enhance our internal management to prevent any intellectual property infringement in the future by instituting additional development safeguards.”

Further down in the ZWSoft press release (how interesting that it’s not in Autodesk’s release as well): Autodesk’s SVP for AsiaPac, Patrick Williams said that Autodesk is “grateful for ZWSoft’s cooperation in resolving this matter amicably. With ZWSoft’s release of its ZWCAD Classic product and continued product development, we look forward to continued and robust competition in the marketplace.”

The practical implication is this: Try to buy (legally) ZWCAD+, and you’ll discover that you can’t. Already have ZWCAD+? You can get a free ZWCAD Classic to replace ZWCAD+ by contacting ZWSoft — or you can wait to change until the release of ZWCAD 2017, expected in the spring of 2016. Autodesk had asked the court to compel ZWSoft to “impound, destroy or reasonably dispose of” all copies [of ZWCAD+] made in violation of Autodesk’s intellectual property; withdrawing from future sales is a reasonable middle ground, since customers working with ZWCAD+ can’t all immediately switch. But should they be made to? I don’t know. If you buy a Rolex watch from a guy on a street corner, you know it’s not legit and are somewhat culpable in the diminishing of the Rolex brand. Is the same true if you (knowingly) buy an AutoCAD knock-off? Unknowingly?

What’s fascinating about this case is how ZWSoft, after vehemently denying all assertions, discovered that it truly was at fault and is now owning up to it. I talked with Autodesk when the case was first filed in early 2014. According to Autodesk, the 2012 release of ZWCAD+ moved away from its IntelliCAD codebase to a new, proprietary structure, “built from the ground up”. That “ground” was AutoCAD, duplicating source code line by line, including bugs. Hatching, filling, filleting, trimming and other bugs that had been fixed in older versions of AutoCAD suddenly showed up in ZWCAD+ but hadn’t been present in older versions of ZWSoft products. Error messages displayed for functions ZWCAD+ didn’t support — but that were part of older AutoCAD versions. APIs were identical. The list of potential intellectual property appropriations was long. As an outsider (but with software development experience), it certainly looked damning. One coincidence? Possible. As many as alleged by Autodesk? Unlikely.

Intellectual property is anything that is created or expressed: inventions, music, books, movies, software. Protecting it is incredibly difficult, especially when many people around the world are trying to solve the same problems at the same time. In that case, teams may legitimately come up with similar solutions at around the same time. But the ZWCAD+/AutoCAD overlap was blatant and so clear (check out the images in Autodesk’s complaint, here) that even a non-technical judge and jury would have seen it.

Update: Autodesk’s Amy Bunszel, VP AutoCAD Products, just published a blog post about the case and its settlement.