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Application switching firm F5 Networks this week filed suit against three rival firms after securing a patent on a key aspect of its technology.

The ink was barely dry on F5's patent on a Method and System for Storing Load Balancing Information with an HTTP Cookie (U.S. Patent No. 6,473,802), before the company filed patent infringement lawsuit against rivals Array Networks, NetScaler, and Radware in the U.S. District Court in Seattle.

John McAdam, President and CEO of F5 Networks, issued a statement explaining the legal move.

"Although F5 does not like to resort to litigation, it cannot allow the unauthorised use of its intellectual property," he said.

According to allegations in the complaint, all three companies are infringing upon F5's Cookie Persistence patent. F5 Networks is seeking permanent injunctive relief and damages for its patent infringement claim.

Radware has not yet been served a writ but has obtained a copy of the complaint and the patent. It's the first to respond to the allegation of alleged patent infringement, which it vows to contest.

"Upon our preliminary review, we believe that the lawsuit is without merit and we intend to vigorously defend it. Further, we believe that the claims do not affect any technology that is core to our business," said Roy Zisapel, chief executive officer of Radware.

So what the heck is Cookie Persistence technology?

F5 says the technology is a key aspect of any traffic management and load balancing product, and provides the following explanation:

"F5's patented Cookie Persistence technology uses an HTTP cookie stored on the customer's computer to allow the customer to reconnect to the same server previously visited at a Web site. This is important, for example, where a customer adds items to a shopping cart at a Web site, then leaves the site before completing the transaction. When the customer returns, Cookie Persistence allows a traffic management device to direct the customer to the server that has stored the customer's shopping cart information, allowing the customer to complete the transaction. Without Cookie Persistence, the traffic management device could direct the customer's request to a different server, which may not know about the customer and his shopping cart status. F5 introduced Cookie Persistence capabilities to the traffic management market in 1999."

So there you have it...

The application switching market is one of the most keenly contested segments of the networking market, even though its much smaller than the router market (for example).

Analyst firm Infonetics Research reports that the Layer 4-7 Switch/Load Balancer hardware market reached $127 million in 4Q02 with its cousin in application switching, the dedicated SSL hardware market hitting $9.4M. F5, Array and Radware are significant players in both these markets, as an analysis by Gartner explains. ®

Reg Factoid

In a previous incarnation, Radware invited me to Israel in 1999 to learn more about its technology. It was a memorable three day trip the only difficulty in which arose when I tried to leave the country.

Immigration officers quizzed me on the purpose of my trip for more than 90 minutes. I was asked to expand at length on my knowledge of the server load balancing market. Whether it was the concept of a press trip or the slight similarity of my name to a certain notorious personage that caused this interest, I never found out.

Anyway I made my plane, only just, and was bumped up to business class by BA.

Which was nice.

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