EA takes Ubi to the mat

Publisher cries foul, contesting Ubisoft's public characterization of its non-compete clause as "standard."

According to a Reuters dispatch yesterday, Electronic Arts was not available for comment after Canadian courts upheld an Ubisoft-proffered injunction.

Today, Electronic Arts not only commented on Ubisoft's post-decision comments, but added some additional elements to what it characterizes as a policy debate significant to the industry as a whole and developers in particular.

The injunction, upheld in last Friday's appellate court decision in Montreal, originally sought to block four former Spinter Cell developers from taking positions at EA's new Montreal studio. The injunction sought to block their employment only during the period needed by the Canadian courts to render a decision on the original case brought by Ubisoft that sought to enforce a non-compete clause allegedly signed by its four former employees.

In a conversation with GameSpot this morning, Electronic Arts vice president of corporate communications Jeff Brown addressed what he felt was a misunderstanding in the general press about the dispute between Ubisoft and Electronic Arts.

An Ubisoft spokesperson had been quoted in Reuters this week as saying, "It's pretty much what we expected that the Quebec Court of Appeal would say, that the 'non-compete' clause is reasonable... It's standard in the industry, in Montreal and in Canada."

Brown told GameSpot, "Contrary to what Ubisoft is telling the press and their employees, non-compete language is not standard in contracts in the game industry or in Canada."

Despite its protests, EA itself is no stranger to court proceedings that seek to protect its own property. Previously, the publisher successfully sought the return of documents and code it claimed had been taken illegally by employees who had left EA and formed Spark Entertainment. That case was settled in Los Angeles federal court in May.

Differentiating the Spark spat from the current case, Brown stated, "This isn't about protection of intellectual property. This is about Ubisoft's attempt to punish employees who want to develop their careers outside of the company."

As for EA's stand on non-compete clauses, Brown added, "Outside of severance packages for owners of businesses we acquire, EA does not impose non-competes on employees. EA has more than 1,000 people at our studio in British Columbia. None of them have non-compete language in their employment agreement."

While Brown's comments may have greater traction in the court of public opinion than in the Quebec court that will rule on the case, his motivation seemed driven to send a message as much to the industry as to any one legal authority.

"Ubisoft is attempting to drive other developers out of Montreal. What if in 1920, a film studio took subsidies from the state of California and then used it to sue others who tried to make movies there?" Brown said.

The Quebec courts will set a trial date in the case on October 25.

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