Gaming giant Aristocrat has commenced legal action against rival Ainsworth, claiming a “controversial” game designer used confidential information to develop a competing slot machine.
Aristocrat has accused Ainsworth of copyright infringement, breaching confidential information, and contravening the Australian Consumer Law and is seeking a court order for preliminary discovery to mount its case.
In the first case management hearing before Federal Court Justice David Yates on Thursday, Aristocrat barrister J M Hennessy, SC, said Ainsworth developed a gaming product similar to Aristocrat’s after an employee, Sujay Prabhu, jumped ship from Ainsworth to Aristocrat, and back again.
Prabhu lasted three weeks at Aristocrat before he was terminated, Hennessy said. He moved back to Ainsworth, where his most recent position was as game design team leader.
Earlier this year, Ainsworth began promoting its Jackpot Strike slot machine, giving demonstrations at three separate expos.
While Hennessy admitted Aristocrat had only “glimpses” of the game’s operation at the events, there were enough similarities between Jackpot Strike and Aristocrat’s own slot machine, Lightning Link, for the company to file legal proceedings on April 24.
Ainsworth has already voluntarily entered into an undertaking with Aristocrat, giving assurances that the version released at launch would be different to those demonstrated previously at expos, and that Prabhu would not be involved in the later releases.
However, Hennessy said this may prove to be “problematic” because it was unclear how Ainsworth would separate Prabhu’s efforts in developing the prior versions from the launched product.
Because of Ainsworth’s undertaking, Aristocrat’s prospective suit would target only breaches of confidential information and copyright in terms of Jackpot Strike’s pre-launch versions, which had still resulted in loss of sales for Aristocrat, Hennessy said.
Judge Yates heard Thursday the parties were disputing the release of confidential documents in discovery.
Ainsworth wants Aristocrat to provide full access to the papers to its general counsel, David Greenslade, and to Prabhu.
Hennessy told the court Aristocrat was happy to consider Aisworth’s discovery request as it related to Greenslade, but not Prabhu.
“He is already a very controversial character in this proceeding,” he told Judge Yates. “There is an additional degree of caution on our part.”
Since the design of Lightning Link relied heavily on the underlying mathematics found within the confidential documents at issue, “we have a pretty strong view as to the extent to which he should be near such material,” Hennessy said.
Ainsworth’s barrister, Chris Burgess, told Judge Yates that Aristocrat was stalling proceedings by preventing Ainsworth from accessing the requested documents.
Judge Yates ordered the parties to resolve the discovery issue and set another hearing in the case for May 30.
Spruson & Ferguson Lawyers is representing Ainsworth. Gilbert + Tobin is representing Aristocrat.
Hennessy is from Tenth Floor Chambers, while Burgess is from Nigel Bowen Chambers.
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