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URI paid $475,000 in settlement with California software company

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The University of Rhode Island has agreed to pay Synopsys Inc. $475,000 as part of a settlement after the California software company filed a lawsuit alleging some university employees used “counterfeit keys” to access the company’s software illegally.

URI, which has denied the allegations, could have been on the hook for up to $337 million if the two parties hadn’t reached a settlement. As a part of the agreement made on Aug. 9, URI had 30 days to pay the nearly half million dollars. The university is also required to share its internal findings regarding the counterfeit keys with Synopsys.

It’s unclear if anyone from the university was disciplined over the matter. After not responding to multiple requests for comment, URI spokesperson Linda Acciardo reached out after the story aired, saying the university was pleased about the settlement.

“The university’s consistent and firm position continues to be that any possible misuse of electronic devices or tools in our community, or any alleged inappropriate activity facilitated by them, is not tolerated,” Acciardo said in a statement.

The Synopsys’ complaint – which was filed in the Northern District of California in January – alleged URI employees used counterfeit keys more than 135,000 times starting in November 2020. The complaint stated Synopsys and URI first entered into a software license agreement in March 2006, which governed the school’s use of the company’s intellectual property. The Synopsys license keys authorized users to access its software.

According to the suit, Synopsys also offered an academic program, which allowed URI to train students using the company’s engineering software. But starting last November, “URI began using counterfeit license keys to circumvent” the license key system and accessed the Synopsys software without authorization, the company wrote.

The complaint said “multiple URI employees” accessed the software over 135,000 times on “at least two workstations connected to URI’s network.”

“One of the user profiles associated with these workstations appears to belong to a URI professor,” according to the complaint.

The company wrote URI “knew or had reason to know” that its access to Synopsys’ software “was unauthorized and in violation” of Synopsys’ copyright.

Synopsys initially asked the court for a jury trial, but also wrote that it would accept “statutory damages on a per-circumvention basis,” asking for the maximum for each of the 135,000 violations.

According to the law that governs intellectual property cited in the complaint, the maximum penalty per violation is $2,500, which would mean URI would have had to pay up to $337.5 million, if the company had won the suit.

In a statement to Target 12, Synopsys spokesperson Simone Souza writes: “URI’s prompt cooperation during the investigation was critical to resolving the issue, stopping the users who attempted to thwart Synopsys’ license controls, and reimbursing Synopsys’ legal fees and costs incurred to protect our intellectual property.”

Souza also notes that, as a part of the settlement, URI professors and students will be able to remain a part of Synopsys’ University Program.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

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