By John Donovan
Knowing from personal experience the track record of Royal Dutch Shell in stealing ideas, I must say that I am staggered by the audacity of Shell in trying to draw (trick?) inventors into entrusting the ruthless unprincipled oil giant with their brainchild. The scheme (scam?) is run in various guises, including Shell GameChanger, Shell Ideas360 and Shell Innovation Challenge. Shell is even offering substantial cash prizes as an enticement. See current example (above) from Shell Australia.
We recently published an article about the Newton Research Partners IP theft case against Shell involving Twister B.V., a company set up by Royal Dutch Shell.
I have now obtained from the US courts a Petition filed by Twister B.V. in relation to the discovery process.
Discovery is the part of the pre-trial process whereby the parties to the litigation are obliged under penalty of law to exchange all documents in their possession, custody or control, which are in any way relevant to the case. This applies to any document that may contain information that would enable a party either to advance his own case or damage the case of his opponent.
You may have read a John Grisham novel, or seen a movie whereby one side in a case about to come to trial, tries to hide vital information by burying it in a mountain of documents, most of which have no connection with the matters before the Court. The film “Class Action” starring Gene Hackman provided a classic example of the “paper blizzard” ploy. It is a tactic used by Shell.
Some extracts from the Petition filed by Twister containing a STATEMENT OF THE CASE
This is a misappropriation of trade secrets case brought by Newton Research Partners, LP (“Newton”) against Shell Exploration & Production Company (“SEPCO”), Shell Oil Company, Shell Technology Ventures, Inc., Shell International Exploration and Production, Inc., and Twister, a private limited liability company in The Netherlands. See R5. Newton alleges that SEPCO misappropriated its trade secrets, and shared them with Twister (who Newton alleges to be in a joint venture with SEPCO) and that Twister is marketing and selling those trade secrets in the form of its Twister Supersonic Separator. Relator Twister is not a Texas resident. It is a private limited liability company incorporated under the laws of the Netherlands. R3-Ex. B:~2. Its principal and only place of business is in the town of Rijswijk in the Netherlands. Twister is basically a single product start-up company, with all of its employees engaged in trying to make Twister a commercially viable company. At its essence, the litigation between Newton, SEPCO and Twister is about Twister’s only product – the Twister Supersonic Separator – and who invented the technology used in that product.
I note that Twister describes itself in the Petition as a “small Netherlands Company”. It would have been more honest to describe itself as a small company founded and financed by the biggest company by revenue in the entire world (RDS Plc ranked No 1 in 2013).
Basically, Twister was trying to force Newton Research Partners, an American company, to travel all the way to Europe to inspect discovery documents at Twisters HQ offices stored in “16 four/five drawer cabinets.” Apparently the idea was disclosed to Shell in the USA and Shell chose to pass the confidential information to Shell in Europe, in breach of previously agreed confidentiality terms.
Seems to me to be a classic example of a company attempting to pervert the discovery process by trying to put obstacles in the way of gaining proper access to relevant discovery information. In this case trying to force Newton Research Partners into making an extended expensive overseas trip involving spending many days in a hostile setting – the HQ of the company being accused of IP theft.
The last time I sued Shell for IP theft I had a very similar experience with their discovery machinations. I had to commute from Bury St Edmunds to London every day (or stay at a hotel) to inspect discovery documents at the extremely hostile premises of the London law firm acting for Shell. A lawyer representing Shell was present all of the time every day while I checked the documents – countless boxes of documents, with most of the content having no possible relationship to my case. Shell has never denied that this was an attempt to bury evidence. I was very patient and have a good memory. This was vital because information was often not together in one box, but interspersed over thousands of pages in a jigsaw of evidence, spread across different boxes. Consequently, if I found something interesting, which potentially tied in with something seen earlier, perhaps even days previously, I had to search back through endless boxes to try to assemble the pieces into coherent evidence.
I am not a lawyer, but it seems from the court documents that the relevant Court of Appeals ruled against twister on the discovery issues and awarded costs against them. If Shell or Twister has any later ruling on this subject, I will be happy to post that information here.
INFORMATION RECEIVED FROM A RELIABLE SOURCE
Within Shell, Matthias Bichsel is credited with the establishment of a group called the “Competitive Intelligence Unit” (CIU) which was nothing more than a group within the company dedicated to industrial espionage. It was perhaps this group whose activities led to the case involving the “Twister” technology. There are plenty of references to the CIU on the web too, and it may be useful to people involved in “discovery” to identify people within this group. While gathering intelligence on competitors is normal, there is a suspicion that this group did not always operate within the law.