Patent Power Comes to Intrusion Prevention

With the award of a patent on IPS to AirTight Networks this week, the counter-claims and claws are out... can lawyers be far behind?
Posted February 24, 2006
By

Eric Griffith


Anyone with a Blackberry is probably well aware of how patents can impact the lives of... anyone.  For a corporation, a patent awarded by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) can mean a lot of things toward its intellectual property (IP) rights: the ability to demand licenses, horse-trading with other vendors, having a leg to stand on in court over infringement of the rights, or just to look good to potential suitors.

AirTight Networks says it wants to lean toward the last item, with the announcement this week that it was awarded Patent #7,002,943 for its intrusion prevention system (IPS). Specifically, the patent covers a “method and system for monitoring a selected region of an airspace associated with local area networks of computing devices.” This technology is put to use in AirTight’s SpectraGuard  line of products, which it also licenses to vendors like Colubris Networks and Extreme Networks.

However, this patent could already be in question, at least by rival company AirDefense. The maker of the eponymous AirDefense product line filed a patent “interference action”, claiming it filed patent requests covering the same technology two years prior. AirDefense says it filed in 2002; AirTight in 2004.

AirDefense’s statement says, “AirTight invoked a rarely used and generally discouraged process to expedite the issuance of its patent.  While this action accelerates the granting of a patent, which may serve marketing efforts, it diminishes the patent’s intended affect, rendering it for all intents and purposes unenforceable.”

The AirTight patent as awarded is relatively broad, and could overlap with the IPS methods used by a number of companies — though AirTight does state that competitors like AirMagnet and Aruba Networks do not appear to infringe, based on research conducted by the Tolly Group comparing various products.

Dennis Tsu, Vice President of Marketing at AirTight, says his company’s IPS system has three key elements: the ability to detect and classify devices and events over the air, the ability to perform some sort of active prevention over the air (and not only by wire), and finally, the ability to locate the source of the problem.

“We believe that if someone builds an effective intrusion prevention system then they will almost by definition be infringing or stepping into the area our patent covers,” says Tsu. “What we’ve seen is that some competitive systems don’t do what we claim — they don’t do over-the-air-prevention, only over the wire. Some do over-the-air, but then don’t locate.”

That said, AirTight says it has no plans, at the moment, to litigate or demand license fees from anyone. “In most places, litigation is usually the last resort,” says Tsu. “There’s reasonable steps most companies should take before that.”

“But it is an asset, and you, in the course of normal business, don’t want to let people trample on it or not protect it, just like you wouldn’t with a trademark, or it is deemed worthless. There’s a fine line to walk.”

AirTight has 14 other patent applications under review with the USPTO; AirDefense has 16.

This article was first published on WiFiPlanet.com.






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