Keronix IDS 16/12

Keronix Data General Nova Clone

The museum has, after some time and effort by Kevin Stumpf and Ron Fraser, succeeded in obtaining a Keronix machine with its original mounting rack. The original owner of this system was Mini Computer Systems, Inc. of Elmsford, NY.

One version of the Data general vs Keronix story is:

Originally, Keronix, based in Santa Monica, California, made 32K memory boards compatible with Data General's Nova line of mini-computers. To DG's great dismay, they sold their boards for $3300 each, half of the price which DG charged. To further test DG's composure and patience, Keronix engineers were able to reverse engineer the entire DG computer system and offer their own completely compatible machine at a much lower cost to the customer.

On one pleasant Sunday evening January 3, 1973, the Keronix factory burned. When firemen arrived, they found a man unconscious in the production area, with an empty gasolene container nearby. He was revived in hospital, but refused to give his name to the police who sat attendance by his bedside.

Subsequent investigations revealed that he was a private investigator from Philadelphia who was frequently employed by a large legal firm in that city, among whose major clients was Data General.

This is a Wall Street Journal article on the arson case.

Click on the image for a larger view.

From Business Week, July 28, 1975 Espionage in the Computer Business George Foldvary, executive vice-president of Keronix, Inc., was quietly celebrating his 51st birthday with a woman friend at a Los Angeles restaurant on Jan. 3, 1973, when a business associate phoned to tell him there was a fire at the plant in Santa Monica. Figuring that it was a ruse to lure him to a surprise party, Foldvary, still wear- ing his dinner jacket, drove to the plant, ready to swing. But when he arrived, he found that the fire report was no joke. Fire officials and insurance investigators quickly diagnosed arson. Keronix Chairman Laszlo Keresztury, 40, like Foldvary a Hungarian immigrant, became impatient with local police efforts to identify the culprit and hired a private investigator. The detective's findings caused Keresztury last December to file a suit that shook the entire computer industry. Tiny Keronix, a privately owned manufacturer of minicomputer core memories whose $3.5-million sales in 1974 make it a mere blip in the $1.25-billion minicomputer industry, charged Data General Corp. of Southboro, Mass., an industry leader, with an elaborate conspiracy to put Keronix out of business. The suit alleges that these machina- tions ultimately led to the fire. Keronix asked $5-million for interrup- tion of business and $50-million in punitive damages. Data General's young entrepreneurs, who in just seven years have built their company from nothing to sales of $83.2-million, angrily denied the allegations and answered the Keronix suit in kind. Their countercomplaint charged Keronix with pirating trade secrets from Data General. "Keronix and its agents,'' it said, "obtained such pro- prietary material by, among other methods, purchasing Data General equipment and in connection with the purchases obtaining such pro- prietary material, which is furnished by Data General to its customers." fair-weather friends Pressuring of customers and industrial espionage are not uncommon in the fiercely competitive minicomputer industry, which is only 10 years old and still in its rough-and-tumble formative stage. One meas- ure of how much investors distrust the industry is the refusal of some to dismiss the seemingly far-out suggestion that big and suc- cessful Data General might really have had something to do with the fire at tiny Keronix. When the Keronix suit was made public last January (page 62), Data General's stock, always among the more volatile issues on the New York Stock Exchange, dropped to less than 9. Even the institutions, which have been friendly toward Data Gen- eral, grew nervous. The biggest seller in January was said to be Key- stone Custodian Funds of Boston, which reportedly sold 300,000 shares at an average price of about $9 per share. Since then, DG's stock has rebounded and is now trading at about $35 per share. While Keronix and Data General exchanged civil suits, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles spent nearly two years pondering the criminal aspects. On June 30, a gleeful Data General issued a press release reporting that federal authorities had told the company that the investigation had been terminated and that no federal indict- ments were forthcoming. The DG release was accurate but incomplete. As Vincent J. Marella, Assistant U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, describes what happened, "We are declining prosecution and referring the case to local authori- ties because we have limited statutes.'- This means that the Los Angeles district attorney will inherit the grand jury files and can pick up where the grand jury left off. Meanwhile, the two companies have been lobbing allegations at each other, Keronix claiming that Data General wants to put it out of business, DG charging that Keronix is simply running a huge pub- licity stunt. The battle has been joined by a phalanx of high-priced lawyers. At least eight private detective agencies have at various times been hired by one side or the other, and local, state, and federal agencies have been drawn into the fray. ANTAGONISTS Keresztury, who owns 46 percent of the stock in Keronix, used $10,000 of his savings to incorporate the company he started in a spare bedroom six years ago. He had fled Hungary in 1956 and after attend- ing the University of London came to the U.S., where he worked for Ampex Corp. and later Teledyne, Inc. There, he says, he "designed computer memories that are still being used today." Data General, on its part, accounts for 10.7 percent of worldwide shipments of minicomputers, according to a survey by Modern Data Services, Inc. That makes DG No. 2 in the industry, a long way behind Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), which holds 33.6 percent of the market. Data General grew out of DEC. In 1968, Edson D. de Castro, then 30, quit his systems engineering job at DEC's Maynard (Mass.) head- quarters to form DG in neighboring Southboro. Some of his associates were even younger than de Castro, who became president. For financ- ing, they turned to New York attorney Federick R. Adler, who raised capital and was an initial investor. Adler, then 43, was the old man among the youthful organizers. He became secretary and a board member. No sooner had DG begun producing its Nova series of minicom- puters — in direct competition with DEC's immensely popular PDP-8 line — than even smaller companies began duplicating the product. The big mainframe-computer manufacturers had long since learned to live with this kind of problem, but it was new to the infant minicomputer industry, and de Castro reportedly was enraged by what he viewed as thievery. Typically, the supplier of a computer provides the buyer with man- uals that not only describe the hardware but also spell out the soft- ware — the list of instructions that tell the computer what to do. Small, low-overhead companies have been known to use the data in these blueprints to duplicate the hardware of major companies by a process called "reverse engineering." Once it knows how the original was built, a small company can begin to make replacement parts and peripheral equipment that fit the system and can be operated by the original software. These com- panies can almost always do the job cheaper than a big computer maker can because, as Donal W. Fuller, chairman of Microdata Corp., another minicomputer maker, explains, "they don't have the market- ing, product development, and software overhead costs.'' They must be careful not to infringe on patents, which the big com- panies use increasingly as a defense. And there is the murky area of trade secrets which, although not patentable, may be considered privi- ledged. Reverse engineering "is fairly new in the minicomputer in- dustry, but it is fair play," says Microdata 's Fuller. "Keronix does it to Microdata, too, but we don't sue." DRAWING THE LINE De Castro is not so patient, though, and he has not hesitated to sue. His battles with Keronix began more than four years ago when DG's Los Angeles law firm, Keatinge, Libott, Bates & Pastor, hired California Attorneys Investigators, Inc., to learn if the Santa Monica company was stealing secrets from DG. In a confidential report dated Sept. 1, 1971, the detectives said : "There does not appear to be explicit subterfuge or espionage occurring between the subject company and the competitive computer companies, including client company." DG was unhappy with California Attorneys' conclusions, so in May, 1972, the management hired Dan Sullivan, a Boston detective who had been used by a DG executive in a divorce fight. Acccording to attorney-investor Adier, Sullivan's assignment was to look for leaks within DG. "We wanted to know if any employee of DG was selling trade secrets, with particular emphasis on Keronix," says Adler. In a month on the job, Sullivan apparently found little evidence of leaks from within DG, so the investigation again turned to Keronix. Sullivan hired a Los Angeles private detective named Robert A. Clark to carry out the West Coast snooping. Clark attempted unsuccessfully to tap Keronix' telephone lines, according to the Keronix suit. Next, says the suit, Clark and two associates "fraudulently" obtained Kero- nix telephone bills from General Telephone Co.'s office in Santa Monica. The detectives were trying to learn which DG customers were also doing business with Keronix. This could lead them to companies that were passing DG manuals on to Keronix, enabling Keronix to do "reverse engineering" on DG products and to undercut DG's core mem- ory prices. Pressure was then allegedly brought to bear on these customers by DG's marketing operation. Adler, speaking for DG management, refuses comment on the tele- phone bills. Nor will Richard Bates, a partner in DG's West Coast law firm. But he does allow : "You can obtain phone records of anyone for a small payment. It might be illegal for the phone company or phone company employee to give them. But it is not illegal to get them." PRESSURE ON CUSTOMERS Laszlo Keresztury says that he was puzzled at the time by the num- ber of calls he got from customers complaining that DG had learned that they were doing business with him. But he gives only a few ex- amples because, he claims, his diary was destroyed in the fire. Clinton Day, vice-president of Beehive Medical Electronics in Salt Lake City, says that a DG agent made some "mild threats" and "threatened to sue is if we continued dealing with Keronix." Accord- ing to Day, the DG sales agent also "implied that DG had industrial spies that were keeping Keronix under surveillance." Another DG-Keronix customer, Frederick J. McKee, vice-president and general manager of M&M Computer Industries, Inc. a Singer Co. subsidiary, says : "Data General is a very tough competitor, and they can be very heavy-handed." Keronix' suit claims, however, that the sleuthing done for Data General by Sullivan, Clark, and others went far beyond obtaining telephone bills and pressuring Keronix' customers — and indeed led directly to the fire. But Adler of Data General says that DG finished with Sullivan's services in August, 1972 — and the fire at Keronix took place five months later. THE ARSON JOB There was no doubt that the fire was the work of an arsonist. Kero- nix' insurance carrier, Insurance Co. of North America, hired Jasich & Lowe, Los Angeles fire investigators, to look into the fire. It turned out that fires had been set in Keresztury's desk and in the blueprint room, says investigator Thomas Pugh. The locations of the fires led to suspicions of espionage. Oddly, in forcing a shipping door open with a truck, the arsonists did not set off the ultrasonic burglar alarm system. And even though there was plenty of expensive equipment about, all that was stolen were a typewriter, an adding machine, and a six-pack of 7-Up. Months later, the Los Angeles County sheriff's staff found a "fence" who was trying to sell the typewriter. The investigators traced the typewriter back to a man named Ralph A. Zoebisch, who was on probation after a conviction for receiving stolen property. Zoebisch, who is identified in the suit, says that he told the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Santa Monica police that he worked in the ship- ping department of a company next-door to Keronix. He told the Santa Monica police that Clark had offered him $300 in advance and $200 upon completion