Ask HN: Huge enterprise customer wants to see our source code
We are a small 5-person enterprise software startup, operating in the data analytics/ML space. We are working on starting a proof-of-concept with a huge potential customer ($50+bn in revenue). We recently identified our first use case, and are ready to get into contract negotiations.
But then they got back to us with an odd request: they want to see our source code (likely upon completion of the PoC). Given that our core IP is our models and algorithms, we are reluctant to agree. Their justification is: "we want to see how your algorithms made their decisions."
We know that they have lots of resources and are building up internal data science team. And yet it was pointed out to me that their goal might not necessarily be to outright steal our IP, but rather to cover their bases. But we are still worried they might be "inspired" by the parts they see and get their internal teams to replicate across other sites or use cases. And we don't have the resources to litigate, nor any way of knowing they do this.
My questions: 1) Has anybody run into a request like this? How would you respond? 2) How likely do you think their goal is to genuinely "see what happens under the hood" as opposed to replicate in the future? 3) Are there any legal protections we can put in place to prevent them from not just copy-pasting our code, but also from "learning from it" or so?