Monday, June 8, 2009

Patent Abuse?

This is not strictly an application security post, but I just read an amazing article about a security/tech company here in Dallas. I had never heard of DeepNines, Inc. even though I live in DFW and work in the information security field. Based on the article, my first impression of DeepNines is not good. Apparently they won an $18 million settlement against McAfee because McAfee violated their patent. Their patent is "for detecting attacks on a site in a communications network and for taking actions to reduce and/or redirect such attacks". Not satisfied with their windfall, they are suing again, this time Secure Computing, which was just acquired by... McAfee. Now McAfee has to deal with them all over again!

This looks like an egregious case of patent trolling to me. How could a patent be granted for such a thing? Patents are supposed to be "nonobvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to the invention" (ref). It's highly questionable that's true here. It's like patenting a steering wheel as "the process of taking an action to cause the rotation about a vertical axis the front-most wheels of a vehicle causing said vehicle to turn in a rightward or leftward direction."

One of my previous employers is dealing with something very similar. It's too bad there are companies that don't like to compete on the merits of their technology or customer service. They find it easier to acquire questionable patents and then sue the pants off anyone they see as a threat. For some companies, patent trolling actually seems to be the true business model.

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