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VPN infringement blitz

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

After being awarded $200m in a patent-infringement case that it brought against Microsoft, VirnetX has now gone after Apple, Cisco Systems, and others.

In a brief statement announcing the lawsuit, VirnetX accused Apple, Cisco, NEC, and the self-described "leading global enterprise communications provider" Aastra of violating five of its patents, each related to a greater or lesser extent to VPN.

Of the companies in VirnetX's sights, the one with the most to lose is Cisco. The other three firms are merely accused of violating VirnetX's patents "directly", while Cisco is accused of doing so "willfully" — a charge, if proven, that could result in a painful payout of treble damages.

The suit was filed Wednesday in the US District Court for the Eastern Distict of Texas, a venue popular among patent-infringement plaintiffs due to its history of rendering in their favor. Presiding over the case is Judge Leonard Davis, the George W. Bush appointee who handled not only VirnetX's successful patent-infringment suit against Microsoft, but also i4i's equally successful action against Redmond for Microsoft Word's infringement of an XML-editing patent.

To complete the symmetry, the law firm representing VirnetX in the new lawsuit is the wonderfully named McKool Smith, the same firm that represented both i4i and VirnetX in their successful suits against Microsoft, and which describes itself as "one of the nation’s leading pure trial firms".

The five US patents in question are 6,502,135; 6,839,759; 7,188,180; 7,418,504; and 7,490,151. Apple is accused of violating the first and last of those five: "Agile network protocol for secure communications with assured system availability", filed in February 2000 and granted on the last day of 2002, and "Establishment of a secure communication link based on a domain name service (DNS) request", filed in September 2002 and granted in February 2009.

The "Agile network" patent is one of the two over which VirnetX successfully sued Microsoft — an action that evetually led to a $200m settlement. Apple escaped being accused of violating the second of the two patents in question in the Microsoft suit, 7,188,180 ("Method for establishing secure communication link between computers of virtual private network"), but Cisco didn't.

The networking giant has been charged with violating four of the five patents, escaping only the "domain name service" infringment accusation — and each of those four violations is tagged with the expensive word, "willfully."

Perhaps bouyed by its success with Microsoft, and confident in its legal standing, VirnetX appears to plan more patent wrangling in the future. As the company notes in its "Corporate Backgrounder" (PDF): "We believe that we will hold the majority of 4G essential patents related to Series 33 specifications that define security standards for LTE/4G and are prepared to license the use of our patents for incorporation into 4G related products such as chips, servers, smartphones, laptop computers, etc."

VirnetX also notes in its Backgrounder that it acquired a patent portfolio and a team of engineers from SAIC in 2006, and that: "It now serves as the foundation of our planned licensing and service offerings. We expect to derive the majority of our revenue from license fees and royalties associated with these patents."

As the world moves from 3G to LTE/4G wireless technology, expect to hear more from VirnetX. ®

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