Encryption patent firm stakes claim on industry
A previously unknown Californian firm which has obtained a patent for application-independent file encryption is seeking to enforce licensing from other companies in the security industry.
The move has spurred anger among vendors hit by patent infringement claims; they say they will contest the action vigorously.
Maz Technologies was granted a patent last year for a "method of transparent encryption and decryption for an electronic document management system". Recently the company appointed lawyers to press its claims.
PC Dynamics, the publisher of a virtual disk encryption product for Windows called SafeHouse, is among the first companies targeted in Maz's claim.
Through attorneys Koppel, Jacobs, Patrick & Heybl, Maz is seeking a minimum $25,000 license fee from PC Dynamics. Another small vendor, Arizona-based Envoy Data (which resells SafeHouse alongside its own products), has also received a letter from the lawyers along similar lines.
Peter Avritch, president of PC Dynamics, told us he was surprised to be approached this week about what he considered was an "absurd" claim, based on a patent filed in 1998 - long after the widespread use of electronic encryption technology.
"This is a very broad patent, which covers almost everything that saves encrypted files to disc. It could cover everything from secure laptops to electronic encryption," he said.
"My arguments to the lawyers that this was 'prior-art' didn't go down well," he added.
Avritch is unsure who else has been approached by Koppel, Jacobs, Patrick & Heybl.
PC Dynamics makes products that compete with tools from larger firms like Norton's N-Disk range, PGP Disk and solutions from RSA Security.
The lawyer handling the case, Stephen Sereboff, was not available to talk with us when we called the attorneys.
Avritch, is heavily critical of the US Patent Office's lack of knowledge of the basics of encryption, and said its actions in granting the patent place him a difficult position in defending his firm against the patent infringement claim.
"The patent application failed to disclose a single encryption product. Unreal for 1998," Avritch said
"Naturally, with all the need for encryption, it is ridiculous for somebody to come along this late in the game and claim a lock on the entire industry."
Avritch hopes to put together a media campaign, including supporting quotes from influential industry leaders, to oppose the claim. ®