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URI sued in multimillion-dollar lawsuit by California software company

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A California technology company has filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Rhode Island alleging some school employees used “counterfeit keys” to access the company’s software illegally.

If the company wins the suit, the university could be on the hook for up to $337 million.

In the complaint – which was filed in the Northern District of California in January – Synopsys, Inc., alleges employees used counterfeit keys more than 135,000 times starting in November 2020. The complaint states Synopsys and URI first entered into a software license agreement in March 2006, which governs the school’s use of the company’s intellectual property. 

It says that Synopsys provides license keys, which authorizes users to access its software.

The suit says Synopsys offers an academic program, which allows URI to train students using the company’s engineering software.

But starting in 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 alleges “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,” the complaint says.

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 asked the court for a jury trial, but also writes 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 to pay $337.5 million, if the company wins the suit.

David Lavallee, a spokesperson for the university, said in an email, “We can’t comment because it’s pending litigation.”

Synopsys is headquartered in Mountain View, California, and the complaint says Synopsys “is the fifteenth largest software company in the world and currently employs over 14,000 employees worldwide.”

Synopsys spokesperson Simone Souza said in an email: “As a result of URI’s swift response to Synopsys, the piracy that occurred on URI’s campus last year was immediately halted and has been remediated. The University’s actions serve as an example of the power of collaboration in combatting users who attempt to thwart Synopsys’ license controls. URI continues to be a part of the Synopsys University Program family so that its educators and students can continue to benefit from Synopsys’ industry-leading software.”

A court filing earlier this month shows the two sides are in settlement talks. A hearing is scheduled for July 22 in California.

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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