A leading Israeli university is suing one of its own senior staff members for allegedly creating a zero-knowledge proofs technology company based on the intellectual property the professor developed while working for the institution.
The Technion Wants a Piece of Starkware
The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, a research university established in 1912, has filed a lawsuit in the Haifa District Court against computer science lecturer Prof. Eli Ben-Sasson, claiming that he acted in violation of the institution’s intellectual property regulations. Ben-Sasson is the co-founder and Chief Scientist of the blockchain technology startup Starkware and the Technion now demands from the court the transfer of 50% of all his shares in the company.
The university claims that the professor tried to keep it in the dark about the establishment of the company and that he did not ask for the Technion’s approval for the commercialization of the intellectual property that belongs to the institution. Ben-Sasson’s defense denies these accusations, saying that Starkware did not use or intend to use an invention belonging to the Technion and that the university therefore has no right to his shares. However, they have offered to give the Technion a certain share of ownership in the company, dependent upon reaching a compromise agreement in the near future.
Zero-Knowledge Proofs Technology Worth Millions
Starkware promises to improve the scalability and privacy of blockchains using STARK technology, providing zero-knowledge cryptographic proofs that are “post-quantum secure” with no need for a trusted setup. Besides Ben-Sasson, the company’s other co-founders are Prof. Alessandro Chiesa (UC Berkeley), Uri Kolodny, and Michael Riabzev (Ben-Sasson’s doctoral student at the Technion).
In May 2018, Starkware had announced it had completed a $6 million seed funding round with participation from Vitalik Buterin, Zcash Co., Arthur Breitman (Tezos), Da Hongfei (NEO), Bitmain, Elad Gil, Fred Ehrsam, Linda Xie, Pantera, Naval Ravikant, Metastable, Floodgate, Polychain and others. By October it closed a $30 million equity round, led by Paradigm with investors such as Intel Capital, Sequoia, Atomico, DCVC, Wing, Consensys, Coinbase Ventures, Multicoin Capital, Collaborative Fund, Scalar Capital and Semantic Ventures. In July of that same year the startup also reportedly got a $6.7 million grant from the Ethereum Foundation.
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