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ScanSafe forces MessageLabs to clarify sales pitches

MessageLabs has been ordered to provide a court-approved press release to everyone enquiring about its new web-browsing control system, Web Security Service. The statement distances its software from that of another company, ScanSafe.02 Aug 2006

The two companies were engaged in a dispute in which ScanSafe claimed that MessageLabs was attempting to pass off its own technology as a new version of ScanSafe's. A judge has ordered that the press release be issued to all potential customers in order to clear up any potential misunderstanding.

The case stems from a deal previously struck between the two technology security firms. MessageLabs makes email scanning software, while ScanSafe provides web control products which companies use to limit employees' use of the internet.

ScanSafe previously allowed its technology to be re-sold by MessageLabs as if it were a MessageLabs product. MessageLabs called it Web Security Service. MessageLabs has now built its own browsing control software and wants to release it as Web Security Service Version 2.

ScanSafe was worried that MessageLabs wanted to give the impression that version 2 of the software was based on version 1, even though it was a completely different piece of software and nothing to do with ScanSafe. It accused MessageLabs of trying to 'pass off' its software as that of ScanSafe.

That 'passing off' case will be tried in the High Court in the coming months, according to sources familiar with the case.

ScanSafe applied for an injunction in the intervening period to stop MessageLabs from referring to its new software as version 2.

Judge Patten in the Chancery Court did not grant the injunction as requested, but instead ordered that if MessageLabs continue to refer to the software as version 2 then any potential customer of MessageLabs who asks for information about their new service, or wishes to change to their new service, be supplied with text based on a MessageLabs press release from June of this year which points out that the new software is not based on the old. MessageLabs offered an undertaking to this effect and were therefore injuncted to this effect.

The ruling even stipulated the size of the text, with the judge saying that the document should be supplied in font no smaller in size than point 10. He did not impose any further restrictions on the use of Version 2 or 2.0 in the period between the hearing and the trial.

ScanSafe also argued that MessageLabs threatened to breach their agreement by moving its customers to the new system before the expiry of a nine month notice period stipulated in the contract. MessageLabs had already given two months’ notice of its intention to launch the new service, under another clause of the contract.

Judge Patten in the Chancery Court ruled that ScanSafe’s construction was wrong, and the nine month ‘notice’ period was not a restriction on transferring customers. Since MessageLabs had given the two months' notice, there was no prohibition on transfer and, in particular, the transfers could take place at any time within the nine month notice period if MessageLabs wished.

Editor's note, 02/08/2006: The judgment was inaccurately reported by us when this story first appeared on Monday, 31st July. It was taken off-line, corrected and re-published today. We wish to apologise to the parties involved.