back to article Cisco ordered to cough up $2bn – yes, two billion dollars – plus royalties after ripping off biz's cybersecurity patents

Cisco has been hit with a massive $1.9bn patent-infringement bill for copying cybersecurity tech from Centripetal Networks and pushing the company out of lucrative government contracts. The network switch maker infringed four patents, a Virginia court decided on Monday, but since the infringement was “willful and egregious,” …

  1. Claverhouse Silver badge

    The four patents are: US 9,203,806, 9,560,176, 9,686,193, and 9,917,856.

    America appears to have a lot of patents.

    .

    He noted that Cisco had “continually gathered information from Centripetal as if it intended to buy the technology from Centripetal,” but then “appropriated the information gained in these meetings to learn about Centripetal’s patented functionality and embedded it into its own products.”

    Wasn't there another tech company that had a lot of form doing that stuff ? Begins with an M ?

    1. Bonzo_red

      Lots of Patents

      The numbering system doesn't mean there are ten million patents to negotiate. US patent number 1 was issued in 1790, for example.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Windows

        Re: Lots of Patents

        "US patent number 1 was issued in 1790, for example."

        ... and (probably) copied something manufactured in Birmingham.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Lots of Patents

          That's Birmingham, England not Birmingham, Alabama - mostly likely named after Birmingham, England....

    2. JetSetJim

      If the patents are numbered sequentially on grant, then it would seem that the USPTO is issuing ~830 patents per day in the time period between the first and the last of these if you compare patent grant dates and patent IDs!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Devil

    Cisco cybersecurity?

    Given Cisco's track record, they must have copied the software wrong.

  3. Red Ted
    FAIL

    Breach of NDA too?

    Ripping off the tech whilst under NDA is pretty brazen!

    Presumably they can be sued for breach of NDA too?

    1. Jon 37

      Re: Breach of NDA too?

      Nope. They decided to sue on patent grounds, if they wanted to sue for NDA violations they could have done that at the same time, but it's too late now. US law was designed to settle things between the litigants, so if you want to sue for a bunch of things on the same facts, you have to do it at the same time.

      Besides, patent infringement is much easier to prove and probably gives much higher damages. It's not worth adding the complexity of an NDA violation suit at the same time. Also, they want the jury focussed on the patent allegations and not distracted by NDA issues.

      Disclaimer: IANAL, I just read a bunch of legal blogs.

  4. Tempest
    Thumb Down

    Hey, take it easy, have you forgotten that

    Cisco is an agent for the US National Security Agency as a supplier of hackable routers.

    1. This is not a drill
      Joke

      Re: Hey, take it easy, have you forgotten that

      And that's where the Chinese (Huawei) copied the idea from.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Hey, take it easy, have you forgotten that

        I can see a subsequent article with the subtitle: "Cisco uses sueball on China. China is unaffected. China uses Hack. Cisco's defense fell."

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "The judge also expressed his irritation again with Cisco over its efforts to force the court to use its own Webex video conferencing system rather than the Zoom software the court had trained its staff on"

    Pro tip: don't try to tell the judge how to run his court. It won't end well.

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    “mitigated by the professional performance of its trial counsel.”

    No. It's not because the lawyers smile nicely that you should scale back on the damages.

    They're paid to be the best they can, and in this case, paid by thieves. The judge should have hit them with all barrels.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anon because I have only spent 20 minutes skim reading the court pdf referenced above and one of the patents...so following might be wrong! BUT at first sight: 1. the patents seemed to define basic operation of just about any modern network switch/router, firewall or IPS system. namely "filtering network data packet transfers based on one or more rules corresponding to one or more network-threat indicators" how can you be allowed to patent that!? And then loads of the court pdf seems to comprise extracts from Cisco data sheets "proving" that Cisco switches routers and security products can filter packets based on threat indicators??? Maybe spending a few days reading all the patents/court docs etc would reveal something more substantial ...but it certainly isnt obvious.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Every software patent issued is obvious, trivial and duplicates other prior art work..

      An opinion based on many decades of reading software patents.

      The only purpose of software patents is to defend yourself against patent trolls, to trade against other companies patents to avoid i.p litigation, and to raise money from idiot investors who are impressed by pieces of paper issued by a government agency. No other purpose. This assumes you have the multi-millions dollars necessary to cover the legal costs to defend / enforce a patent in the first place. Without those multi-millions in the bank the patent is less than worthless in the real world.

      Maybe some day I might actually read something that was novel, original and non-obvious in a software patent. I put the odds as about the same as winning the El Gordo lottery jackpot.

      1. GrumpenKraut
        Facepalm

        Re: Every software patent issued is obvious, trivial and duplicates other prior art work..

        > ...based on many decades of reading software patents.

        You have my sympathy.

        I have seen the following: with (matrix times vector) multiplication by a matrix where each column has only one or two non-zero entries, you can use a list of those entries, improving memory and time usage from O(n^2) to O(n). This actually, really, not kidding one fucking bit, is a patent.

        1. cyberdemon Silver badge
          WTF?

          Re: Every software patent issued is obvious, trivial and duplicates other prior art work..

          > This actually, really, not kidding one fucking bit, is a patent.

          WTF :(

          Argh, software patents.. Is there anyone in the patent/IP system who can defend it as not being utterly broken and largely corrupt?

          I don't think patents should be abolished, but I think patents and IP protections in general should have their lifespan reduced to reflect the pace of innovation and exploitation.

          The patent system was created to allow inventors fair time to capitalise on their ideas before they become fair game for everyone to build upon, not to give owners a monopoly for life.. And the idea that a patent can be "sold" is questionable too - how can a patent troll claim protection for advancing the field of engineering if they employ no engineers and are simply waiting to pounce on the first person to think of the same idea who tries to build on it?

          100 years ago, maybe an innovation like a minor optimisation in matrix multiplication would be worthy of 25 years of protection. Nowadays though, any innovation in software engineering takes 2-5 years to capitalise upon and build a business empire with. Any state protection after that is 'patently' unnecessary.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Every software patent issued is obvious, trivial and duplicates other prior art work..

            100 years ago, a patent(*) was worth about 5 years of protection and copyright duration was around 20 years

            One of the underlaying problems with the IP system is how it's been abused out of all shape and "protections" extended to the point where they stifle innovation

            (*) Real patents, not US "Trade Dress" ones (which the rest of the world calls "registered designs"

            The original "royal patent" system was killed off by King James 1 because of the widespread abuse that had gone with it, so this isn't exactly a new problem.

        2. gnasher729 Silver badge

          Re: Every software patent issued is obvious, trivial and duplicates other prior art work..

          A company I worked for compressed data by using eight different compression methods and picking the smallest result. They got sued for patent infringement. They changed their code: Called a function that tried eight different compression methods and returned which gave the best compression result, but not the compressed data. Then compressed the data with the best method. This was not patented.

    2. GrumpenKraut
      Angel

      You mean trivial things got patented? No, no, no. THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN!.

      I did a patent recherche once (German and European patents). I cannot find words for just how ridiculous the majority of patents are. And these were proper technical patents, not (gasp!) software patents.

    3. gs4avs

      Standard for patent applications to start off very broad and proceed to a long list of increasingly finer grained claims within which is perhaps the actual 'invention'. From my cursory scan I saw that Cisco was found to be violating claim #63 and #71 of one of the patents! I didn't bother reading what minutiae are buried so deep in the list of claims.

      Another noteworthy observation is that 11 patents were originally claimed to be violated by Cisco. During the litigation, Cisco managed to get 5 of those previously granted patents to be invalidated. In other words, collateral damage to the plaintiff too because those patents are now worthless even outside of this fight with Cisco and if Cisco prevails in the appeal, it will suck for the plaintiff to have gone into the fight with 11 patents and leave with only 6 after incurring hefty legal fees.

    4. Muppet Boss
      Pint

      Looks like a royal patent troll

      >Anon because I have only spent 20 minutes skim reading the court pdf referenced above and one of the patents...so following might be wrong! BUT at first sight: 1. the patents seemed to define basic operation of just about any modern network switch/router, firewall or IPS system.

      I spent more time. Looks like Cisco have been royally popularly owned. The new owners apparently managed to patent things such as: 1. Correlate logs from 2 devices based on for example source/destination IP addresses and timestamps; 2. Determine that encrypted traffic from a host may be malicious if unencrypted traffic from the same host is detected to be malicious; 3. Apply the same firewall rule to more than one packet based on the same IP header fields in the forthcoming packets; 4. Apply 2 different compiled firewall rulesets to 2 different set of packets in a system with at least 2 processors in a serial fashion.

      The patent infringement complaint accuses Cisco devices of having ACL logging and a management port. Seriously.

      The patent examiner's networking skills seem to be rather fishy(!). One can only wonder why and how such patents are let through in this century, and these are from 2013-2015. Apparently the examiner was never Cisco certified...

      It is entertaining to read El Reg stating as a matter of fact that Cisco "simply stole the functionality and incorporated it into its own products". You see, a few of years ago I happened to develop an innovative system for electronically propagated delivery and distribution of newspapers and magazines for example containing images and text by means of a computer. Let me check if my patent is expired yet...

      Cheers!

    5. Glen Turner 666

      Read patent claims from the back if your trying to understand the invention

      You read patent claims backwards. The later claims are the more specific and are the relevant claims. The earlier broader claims are a legal tactic. Once in a while litigation does result in one of the earlier broader claims being accepted, which is one of the many reasons why patent law is such a mess.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Read patent claims from the back if your trying to understand the invention

        That's how the game is played. Describe the invention and broaden until the Examiner issues an OA.

  8. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Obvious case for appeal!

    The Judge is patently wrong as US companies never brazenly rip off IP or take part in any sort of industrial espionage, no no, no arguments.

    ( Better just check whether Cisco had any dealings with the pesky Chinese in the last fifty years so we can blame any issues on state coercion ... )

  9. EnviableOne

    S2D2

    They are switchzilla for a reason, stifle the competition, if they do something better, buy it or better steal it and sell it at twice the price because "no one got fired for buying cisco"

    just in a merger situation, and the other side still have cisco switching, they are offering a service that "usually" costs 35k for free, when you add up the price diffence between our faster more resillient switches and their hunks of cisco stuff we aved 3 times that.....

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: S2D2

      "they are offering a service that "usually" costs 35k for free, "

      but then they add support charges based on the original 35k price anyway

      BTDT - "fantastic savings" on hardware(*) utterly bolloxed by the 5 year support fees (which is why it's so important to look at TOC, not just the hardware)

      My usual response to that kind of charging structure (people pull it on computers too) is "You really don't have much confidence in the reliability of your stuff, do you? And if you don't, why should I?"

      (*) In the case of Cisco BT Inet, "a fantastic 85% savings over list price" - that were still more expensive than buying exactly the same hardware from Insight - and a sales pitch from CIsco UK which consisted of "We're Cisco, you WILL Buy from us, we've taken steps to make sure you can't buy from anyone else"

  10. John Savard

    Cisco prevented its own engineers from answering questions... in a court of law? How did it manage that? Did it terminate them with extreme prejudice?

    You answer questions put to you in a court of law, or you go to jail for contempt. A criminal offence. Which totally outweighs, negates, and nullifies anything in any NDA or employment contract you may have signed - those things are no excuse for not giving a truthful and complete answer when questioned in a court of law, as it's a fundamental principle that contracts are only valid for purposes that are not illegal, and contempt of court or obstructing justice is illegal.

    Thus, it's the judge's fault for not reminding those engineers where they're going if they don't answer the questions, not anything Cisco did.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      " How did it manage that? "

      The usual method is to ensure they are posted out of the country for the duration of the trial and "unreachable"

      A savvy judge might well adjourn, order they appear in 10 days and threaten to start issuing arrest warrants for senior staff on contempt charges if they don't show up

  11. limeytim

    The rightness or wrongness of software patents aside, this strikes me as wrong, and grounds for an appeal for more damages paid to Centripetal:

    "enhanced damages” he decided to lay against the manufacturer had been “mitigated by the professional performance of its trial counsel.”

    The trial lawyers are handsomely paid for being professional in the court. Their professionalism or lack thereof should not sway the weighting of damages.

    Or, honest question, is that a normal thing ?

  12. sitta_europea Silver badge

    I've just read claim 24 on pages 30-31 of the judgment PDF.

    In my humble opinion it's obvious hogwash.

    But on page 29, the Court explains that Cisco tried to hoodwink it.

    That's where they really went wrong.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "But on page 29, the Court explains that Cisco tried to hoodwink it."

      'Perpetrating a fraud upon the court' - at that point you may as well pack up and go home. You lost and if you're really apologetic you might get to keep your liberty

      This is what took Prenda Law down in the end

  13. CynicalOptimist

    In chemistry it sometimes works like this:

    Inventor A discovers new way to make product Y (e.g. high performance plastics, cancer curing drug) - a key part of the process being the use of molecule X in the chemical reaction. Molecule X is really the only novel part of the invention.

    Inventor A wants to patent the overall process for making product Y because he/she considers it to be novel. Checks to see what variations of molecule X also work (such as, adding a little bit extra bit on the side). Files a patent describing invention and lists molecule X and as many variations of it as they could test. Patent is granted.

    Inventor B looks at the patent and spots an obvious (to them) additional variation on molecule X that wasn't inlcuded in original patent. Makes and then tests additional variation - it works (hopefully the same or better). Now they file patent and they can take advantage of new invention too, without infringing on original patent.

    If you have the resources to carry out your own research, then you can usually find a way round infringing on existing patent - or paying a licencing fee. Seems more difficult to do this in the world of software - at least, the assessment of what is and isn't an infringement seems much more difficult.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    IPChains have been used for ages.

    Most network devices that mangle packets,. Firewall, load balancers, WAN optimizers and application security scanners have been doing these patent claims for years mostly using Linux Kernel IPchains future via kernel modules or all out fully customized kernel. Not sure how even in the first place did get the parent in the first place and why the judge ignored that fact. As for Cisco engineers cloning after looking at the demo may still be possible but the listed patent do not show anything new that was not done for ages by all network appliance manufacturer s.

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