CBI-FBI team nabs IIT engineer for software theft
Our Correspondent in Mumbai
It sounds like a plot from a Michael Crichton thriller: high technology, theft, subterfuge, a highly educated crook, teams of law enforcement investigators rushing across two continents, IPR, entrapment, the works.
When the Central Bureau of Investigation officials in New Delhi nabbed Shekhar Verma, a former employee of Mumbai-based Geometric Software Solutions Company and a computer engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, it seemed like just another arrest.
Until, it turned out that Verma was accused of stealing $60 million worth of source codes of a software product of Geometric Software's US-based client, SolidWorks, and trying to sell them to other companies for a fortune. The American firm has the exclusive rights over the software.
Geometric had received the software source codes for debugging from SolidWorks, and Verma who was then employed with the company and working on the project was aware of it. He soon resigned from the company and allegedly took away the source codes with him.
(Any software program is written using programming instructions, typically in languages like C++ and Java. The source code is compiled / converted into a machine readable / understandable programme. The source code, therefore, is the source from which the final application is created.)
But the codes, no matter how expensive, were of no use to the accused until he could find a suitable buyer for them. To try and convert codes into cash, Verma allegedly began to getting in touch with various US-based companies to sell the code.
"The accused sent e-mails to a few parties (using an alias) claiming that he had the source code. One of the parties informed SolidWorks about this. The American firm immediately brought this to the notice of the Federal Bureau of Investigation authorities," informed Charu Gouniyal, corporate communications chief, Geometric Software, while talking to rediff.com.
"The informant co-operated fully with the FBI, and on the pretext of wanting to purchase the source code, found out the real name of the accused. This matched with the name of one of Geometric's ex-employees, who had resigned from the company in June 2002," said Gouniyal.
Following the SolidWorks complaint with the FBI, Geometric too was informed about the development. The Mumbai-based company then moved the authorities. CBI director P C Sharma said that the managing director of Geometric Software Solutions, Manu Parpia, registered a complaint with the agency on August 25.
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation was involved on the basis on SolidWorks' complaint. To arrest the accused, they needed to work closely with the Indian authorities obtaining their permission and involvement in the operation," Gouniyal said.
"The Indian authorities were extremely receptive, understood the significance of the crime and handled the matter with extreme confidentiality, speed and efficiency," stated Gouniyal.
The CBI kept in constant touch with the FBI and laid a trap for Verma. The authorities then managed to get Verma to strike a deal with a front company of the FBI to sell the source codes for $200,000, the initial payment of $20,000 for which was to be wired to Verma's bank account in Mumbai, according to the CBI director.
A meeting with Verma was then fixed at a five-star hotel in New Delhi. The accused was arrested while striking a deal with an FBI agent posing to be a buyer of the source codes. "The event was recorded and the CBI sleuths arrested the accused," informed Gouniyal.
The accused was produced before a designated court in New Delhi which remanded him to four days of CBI custody.
A CBI statement meanwhile said that the authorities had recovered all copies of the SolidWorks source codes in Verma's possession and that he had not previously provided it to any other party.
"The CBI is investigating how the accused managed to get a copy of the source codes. The case is still under investigation," affirmed Gouniyal.
Meanwhile, Parpia said: "We commend the CBI for its prompt action. As was noted in the CBI statement, the excellent cooperation between the US authorities, viz. the Federal Bureau of Investigation, made the rapid arrest possible."
"We believe this action demonstrates that we in India understand the importance of intellectual property protection and that software theft is treated seriously. We understand our customer intellectual property is extremely valuable and their trust in us is essential for our continued success."
SolidWorks too has appreciated the prompt response from Geometric and has assured Geometric that this will not affect its close relationship.
Geometric and SolidWorks are now working closely together to determine what further actions can be taken to improve security at Geometric's facility and elsewhere.
When asked what impact would this development have on Geometric, Gouniyal said: "No impact at all. No damage has been done as he was caught red-handed and all copies recovered. SolidWorks has been very supportive recognising that such an incident could and have happened anywhere in the world."
"SolidWorks has been working closely with Geometric since 1996. Geometric develops add-in software products and provides projects services for their highly popular 3D modeling software called SolidWorks. They have reiterated that there will be no change in their close relationship with us. We have been in constant touch with them. They have been very appreciative of the role played by Geometric in helping apprehend the accused," she said.
Gouniyal said that Geometric worked very closely with the authorities, making itself "available any time required and doing whatever it could to expedite the investigations and bring matters to a successful conclusion. We believe the theft of intellectual property is a serious, punishable offense and will not go unrecognized by Geometric and the Indian software community at large."
"Geometric plans to pursue this case to the furthest extent of the law," she said.
SolidWorks Corporation, a Dassault Systèmes S.A. company, develops and markets mechanical design software solutions. Founded in 1993, SolidWorks' mission is to deliver the power of 3D to everybody in design and manufacturing.
Geometric provides innovative software applications, component technology and development services to CAD /CAM /CAE /PDM and collaborative engineering vendors worldwide.