So my former employer Opera Software has filed a lawsuit against me in Norway for 20 million NOK ($3.4 million), claiming breach of contract and that I must have given Mozilla information that I wasn’t allowed to that has caused severe damage to the company. I strongly disagree with their position and would like to give some background information that will clarify the case a bit and answer some of the many questions I’m getting. However, for now, I will not comment directly on what Opera is claiming in the lawsuit.
I worked at Opera from 1999 to 2006 as the lead designer and developer of the desktop browser, where my most important contributions were tabbed browsing, integrated search, speed dial and mouse gestures. After leaving, and for the next couple of years, I considered developing a new browser that I’ll call GB here. For those that remember the browser market back then, there was at the time no mainstream open source browser for Windows based on the WebKit engine, so there was clearly a market opportunity there. It would also be a good time to start fresh and rethink what a lean and modern browser could be like. GB would be open source, have a unified search and address field, and in general be a very simple and stripped down. In retrospect, some people at Google was obviously having similar thoughts, because they built just that, a lean and clean browser based on WebKit: Chrome.
Another aspect of GB was that it would be a “green browser”. The thinking was that since a browser generates revenue when users search (because search providers pay for such traffic), most of that revenue could go to a green cause of the users choice. Sure, you would have to have a lot of users for it to make an impact, but the model might not have been too crazy, because most applications don’t easily just generate revenue by pure usage, but browsers do, since people do search with them.
GB existed as a concept and ideas, but was never developed, since I chose to focus on other projects. I did in fact meet up with Mozilla, Google and Flock (a first attempt at a social browser) in 2007 to talk about the future of the browser, and it was very tempting to have a go at it, but in the end I chose a different path that year. Needless to say, pursuing to develop the browser would have been a lot of work.
In the summer of 2008, Opera’s founder and CEO at the time, Jon von Tetzchner reaches out and asks if I want to contribute more to Opera. I tell him about GB and propose that we could develop GB as a rebooted and simplified Opera browser. He is very interested, but when we start to talk business, and I tell him that I want no salary and no shares, but 1% of the search revenue as compensation, he says that’s not possible. So there is no deal. In fact, there is never any kind of deal or transfer of ownership of GB concepts to Opera.
In the beginning of 2009, we come to an agreement of me just helping out as a consultant instead, and during 2009 and 2010 some of my design proposals will naturally be based on some of my older GB concepts, since that’s the direction I wanted to take the browser.
The consultancy ends late 2010 when Opera decides not to renew the contract. At that time, very little development progress has actually been made, and I inform the new CEO at the time, Lars Boilesen, that I will most likely pursue to contribute to an open source project like the Mozilla Firefox browser instead, since I think many of my original GB ideas and the direction I wanted to take the browser still has value, and I would like to see the ideas put into code. In a meeting with Lars, he says he understands that, and my intentions are also made clear in an email to him, but he never replies to that email.
Later, I enter a consultancy agreement with Mozilla, and in June 2012, a video is made public which shows me presenting a touch based browser prototype called Junior. This prototype has nothing to do with the lawsuit now filed by Opera. However, in that same video, a Mozilla employee presents among others a feature named Search Tabs, and Opera claims that it proves that I must have told Mozilla trade secrets causing them damages of 20 million NOK. ($3.4 million). I strongly disagree with their position and I believe I have been wrongly accused, and that I can prove my case.