Cadence, Avant!, SPC and Mitch

The big picture story of Cadence and Avant! is well known. Some Cadence employees left to create Avant! (initially called Arcsys) and stole Cadence source code. Cadence told the district attorney, Avant! was raided, and after several years delay, everyone plead guilty and got varying sentences. Avant! was acquired by Synopsys and paid Cadence a large settlement.

But inside the big picture is rather amusing smaller story.

Mitch Igusa was the employee of Cadence who packaged up a lot of the source code of the place and route database Symbad, wrote it into a file called byebye.tar and emailed it to himself at home. Then he resigned from Cadence and went off to be a “consultant,” setting up an office one block from Avant! (then still called Arcsys).

Mitch was never an Avant! employee but apparently was paid by an Avant! executive out of a shell company set up and controlled by some of the other Avant! executives. Anyway, eventually his home got raided, and a hard disk full of Cadence source code was found, stripped of Cadence copyright, and in the process of being modified.

His case got wrapped up with all the other Avant! cases and, as is well-known, Avant! managed to delay legal action for years at the same time as they built up a big place and route business and used the money to acquire several other companies (full disclosure: including Compass where I was CEO at the time). Eventually, Mitch’s case came to trial ahead of the others, he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to one year’s jail time (the other Avant! executive waited until the last possible moment and then pleaded guilty on the eve of the trial).

Now the story starts to get even more complicated. Because during the years of delay, Mitch Igusa had co-founded and was the chief architect at Silicon Perspective. The company managed to convince the judge that it would collapse without Mitch and so he was allowed to “participate in a work-release program.” That doesn’t sound very significant but in fact it meant that during the day Mitch Igusa would go to Silicon Perspective and program, and in the evening he’d go off back to jail until the following morning.

Meanwhile, Cadence’s floorplanning and placement technology had fallen behind in the market and a new market leader was starting to dominate the space. Yes, it was Silicon Perspective.

Eventually Cadence acquired Silicon Perpective. Cadence made the mistake of not putting a cap on the earnout portion of the acquisition, apparently meaning it ended up being an acquisition at nearly a billion dollars. Since then no EDA acqisition has had an unlimited earnout. But I digress. For obvious reasons, Cadence didn’t really want Mitch Igusa back on the payroll, of course. Initially, the story goes, he was positioned as being disposable, so it wasn’t a deal-breaker. But as the deal got closer it became apparent he was essential. After all, he was the chief architect of the product so a bit hard to do without. So he continued to “work at Silicon Perspective post-acquisition,” as Lavi Lev, then the exec VP of Cadence, put it. That is to say he worked back at Cadence again.

So apparently there was a period of time when Mitch Igusa would come into work at Cadence during the day writing Cadence physical design code, and then in the evening he’d go back to jail to serve his sentence for stealing…Cadence physical design code. If it happened in a screenplay, you’d think the writer was being a bit unrealistic.

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