San Francisco "mid-core" game developer Kixeye says that a lawsuit filed against it by Zynga is nothing but an attempt to scare its employees into staying and to steal trade secrets away from Kixeye.
Zynga first filed suit against former studio GM Alan Patmore last month, claiming that he shared valuable trade secrets with his new employer Kixeye through proprietary Zynga files he kept on his Dropbox account. Zynga later added Kixeye itself to the complaint.
According to the counter-complaint, Zynga waited until some fifty-eight days after Patmore's resignation to file the complaint, intentionally holding off until he was employed at Kixeye.
"Zynga's interest was never in taking prompt action to protect its information, but rather trying to let just enough time pass after Mr. Patmore's departure so that it could take aim at Kixeye in addition to Mr. Patmore," the complaint reads.
"If Zynga's lawsuit were truly about protecting its alleged trade secrets or other confidential information, Zynga would not have waited over five weeks after Mr. Patmore's departure to scrub his computer for evidence of some potential wrongdoing."
Kixeye is accusing Zynga of trying to infiltrate its own trade secrets through a court order, claiming that Zynga's recent moves into the mid-core space (specifically, the acquisitions of developers A Bit Lucky and November Software) shows that it is trying to encroach on a market that Kixeye already has a foothold in. The company calls the suit a "Trojan Horse to gain access to Kixeye's own confidential, valuable information and trade secrets."
The counter-complaint also alleges that Zynga is intentionally creating an environment where its employees will be too scared to resign and take a new job at Kixeye, for fear of being sued themselves.
According to Kixeye, there were exactly two instances where Patmore may have shared information from the Zynga files on his Dropbox to a fellow Kixeye employee, and neither of them, they say, constitute trade secrets.
The first instance came when a former Zynga employee applied to work at Kixeye. In order to verify whether that former employee was telling the truth when he claimed what his former salary was, the counter-complaint says that Patmore may have looked it up on a spreadsheet he kept on his Dropbox.
The second was an example game pitch document, allegedly emailed to an employee as a possible way to format Kixeye's own pitches. The suit says that "although Mr. Patmore attempted to remove all Zynga-related non-confidential data from the document before he sent it, he did so quickly, and some Zynga-related data remained on the document."
What Kixeye is asking for
Kixeye is, of course, asking for the judge to throw the case out, and make Zynga pay its lawyers' fees and its damages.
But beyond that, it seems to want to make an example out of this case, and is asking the court to make Zynga send a mandatory notice to all of its employees letting them know that they have every right to "seek employment with a competitor in the State of California, free of threat, coercion, and/or objectively and subjectively baseless sham litigation."
"We will fight to our last breath to keep this predatory company from accessing our confidential information and best practices," Kixeye CEO Will Harbin tells us in a statement.
"We intend to defend ourselves from Zynga's legal bullying for as long as it takes to reveal the truth -- that Kixeye played no part in this. As we have stated previously, we have ZERO [emphasis Harbin's] interest in Zynga’s IP or 'trade secrets.' Our games are categorically different from theirs in almost every way.
"Claiming that their failed business practices could inform ours further establishes their complete lack of understanding of the gaming business."