February 15, 2011

On The Other Hand...Warwick Firefighter Cleared After Doing the Right Thing

Marc Comtois

After taking Providence firefighters to task for the remarkable number of them who seem to be retiring on disability, I'd like to turn attention to a Warwick firefighter who did good by the City of Warwick and ended up suffering for it:

Fire Lt. Henrik Dunlaevy, who in 2004 sold his software to a private firm after he had been letting the city use it for free, was the owner of the product and within his rights, states a letter from the state police financial crimes unit....In 2004, Dunlaevy sold his product to PURVIS Systems, a public safety software company based in Middletown.

The state police noted that when Dunlaevy sold the software he insisted that the buyer honor his promise to give Warwick five years of free maintenance and updates.

It was pretty obvious to all that this was exactly the thing we'd want our public employees to do:
Both Mayor Scott Avedisian and Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan said that Dunlaevy, who came to Warwick after serving as a firefighter in Barrington, had already developed the computer software that tracked fire department runs when he was hired by the city.

Sullivan said that Dunlaevy offered to let Warwick use it for free, and did not use city time to work on the product. Avedisian called the council's accusations "ridiculous" and said they would have a chilling affect on any employee who wanted to go above the call of duty by "sharing their own ingenuity with the city."

That wasn't good enough for the "gotcha" lovin' former Warwick Councilwoman Helen Taylor (and this issue stemmed from an earlier p**ing match between the City and Purvis).
At the request of former Councilwoman Helen Taylor in October, the majority of council members asked the state police to investigate the sale, saying they believed the software was enhanced by its use in Warwick and that it was the intellectual property of the city.
So, seven of the nine city councilors joined Taylor (Gallucci and Colantuono voted against) who was convinced that Dunlaevy developed the software on City time and believed that, somehow, the City should get some of the money for "enhanced...intellectual property." The State Police looked into it and cleared Dunlaevy.
"In short, the City of Warwick holds no proprietary interest in the software that Mr. Dudley, alone, developed that would allow the City to criminally complain, in any manner about Mr. Dunlaevy's use or sale of the software," Lt. John Lemont, head of the financial crimes unit, stated in a letter to the Warwick City Council...."After review, the financial crimes unit has found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and have therefore closed the investigation," concludes the letter.
So, while I complained about firefighters not stepping up and calling out their colleagues, I also can understand that bad things can happen when you do step up, especially if politicians get involved.

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I saw countersue and ask for the current value of the license for those five years.

Then file a defamation suit against Taylor.

Posted by: Patrick at February 15, 2011 12:02 PM

It all depends on the employment contract. It's not so unusual for a firm to claim ownership of intellectual property of software developers even if they claim to have developed the software outside of work. Granted a fire fighter's contract may not have that type of agreement.

Posted by: Russ at February 15, 2011 12:04 PM

Especially when software development is not a part of your job description and the software is already written and in use when you start the job, and when you've disclosed that to the employer and then when you use the employer let you use your invention for free.

I'm liking that defamation suit idea more and more.

Posted by: Patrick at February 15, 2011 12:21 PM

Just another illustration of why intellectual property law is such a sick joke. If we hadn't all grown up with the concept, it would seem totally absurd to anyone.

"You can't use X tool because the city of Warwick owns the idea."

In what sense can somebody "own" an idea? Thank goodness patents and copyrights weren't around when the wheel, houses, and modern language were first invented.

Posted by: Dan at February 15, 2011 2:34 PM

One more proof that no good deed goes unpunished.

Posted by: Chris at February 15, 2011 3:15 PM

It's not so unusual for a firm to claim ownership of intellectual property of software developers even if they claim to have developed the software outside of work.

I'd bet the mortgage payment that a firefighter's contract contains no such provision. Firefighting is not considered to be a creative activity. I have rejected incidental consulting contracts that claim such rights and almost invariably there is another contract that appears in short order - the one for the not-so-naive. I won't bore you with details, but I've encountered plenty of people who believe they have an IP right in techniques and procedures that have been in the public domain for literally decades. They are simply too stupid to believe otherwise. Even worse, some have been 'of counsel', internal or external. If you can't straighten this issue out, their money will never be enough to compensate you for resolving the ensuing mess.

Yeah, I'd like to see whats-her-face get sued. She didn't defame this firefighter by her request though. Hopefully she is on record with something that did. Punch back twice as hard.

Posted by: chuckR at February 15, 2011 3:59 PM
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