A number of businesses are complaining a Defence Department organisation has stolen their intellectual property, Crikey can reveal. Chris Seage reports new legislation makes the problem worse.
At least five businesses have alleged senior officers in the Defence Science and Technology Organisation have plagiarised their intellectual property for their own research and then passed it on to business partners to develop a rival product. They also allege there is a "rogue element within the agency" and a "culture of circling the wagons when confronted with allegations against them".
And there are fears that IP plagiarising could increase with the Labor government last year implementing the Defence Trade Controls Act,
which seeks to limit Australian businesses or individuals supplying technology to someone outside of Australia without first revealing their IP to the Australian government.
Brendan Jones, a Brisbane-based small businessman, spent 12 years of his life developing his revolutionary Kestrel Tactical Simulator
, a PC-based professional military platform that simulates air, sea, land and space operations anywhere on the planet. The program simulated various transport modes, weaponry, radars and other sensors.
"It realistically simulated injuries," Jones explained to Crikey
. "A shot soldier would start bleeding at a rate appropriate for the wound, and would have to get medical attention, say, via a medivac before they went into shock. I spent many years studying warfare intently to make it as accurate an experience as possible."
Jones wanted to sell the software to the Defence Department but he was told he must go through DSTO. The government organisation looked at it but eventually recommended against funding the project because it was "impossible to do on a PC". Jones battled on.
"I developed the software myself from my own savings, but when I finished, DSTO tricked ADF into believing the software wouldn't ship for several years. They then gave my IP to scientists I had been warned were plagiarising private sector research, broke a non-disclosure agreement
, and three months later they commissioned their business partner to produce a rival version known as BattleModel," Jones said.
understands BattleModel only began as an air simulator while Jones' KTS was multi-domain (land, sea, air and space) and in particular had excellent maritime simulation capability that was a major attraction to the Navy. An independent investigator appointed by the ADF to investigate the theft of IP told Jones: "Your software and the DSTO BattleModel software were remarkably similar. When I started this case I couldn't see any similarities between KTS and BattleModel. Now I can’t see anything they don’t have in common."
Most people Crikey
spoke to were unwilling to speak on the record due to a fear of upsetting existing business contracts with the ADF. A CEO of a major defence industry organisation told Crikey
the organisation was aware of three recent cases where the DSTO had plagiarised a small business and run off with its ideas. "I'm the first to say there are two sides to every story, but as more instances came up and I thought this is starting to happen a bit much," the CEO said. "The first person you think, well, he might be a bad businessman and didn't protect his IP, but then you start hearing of other people, and now I've had three cases across my desk, and I'm beginning to think that there is some sort of a systemic problem within the organisation."
One of the businesspeople considered taking legal action but decided not to fight the department as he suffered a nervous breakdown during protracted negotiations. In a confidential email to the CEO, he said:
"Just letting you know that I am finished now. DMO cancelled all of my contracts; DSTO awarded my last contract to xxxxx who had been given access to all of my IP and processes by DSTO so there’s nothing left for me to do now. All the work I developed and pushed with xxxxx will now go to xxxxx."