Light Reading

Floridian Sues Cisco Over Router Patents

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
11/5/2004
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A one-man telecom operation out of Miami Beach, Fla., is getting quite a bit of attention for taking on Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) in a patent suit, but at least one routing expert thinks the case won't wash in court.

Allen D. Kaplan made headlines this week with his suit claiming Cisco violates four patents regarding route optimization, the process by which a router decides the best path for a packet. The suit was filed in the name of ConnecTel LLC, a company that boasts Kaplan as its lone employee and is unrelated to the U.K. firm of the same name.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas, on Nov. 3, with ConnecTel listed as the sole plaintiff, represented by Winstead Sechrest & Minick PC.

Cisco is being chased down first, being the most significant alleged infringer, says Daniel Perez, the Winstead Sechrest attorney for ConnecTel. It seems likely ConnecTel would pursue other cases should it prevail against Cisco; in fact, one undisclosed company has already licensed the patents from ConnecTel, Perez says.

A Cisco spokeswoman said the company hadn't been served with the complaint yet and therefore couldn't comment on the case.

The suit involves four U.S. patents for multiprotocol routing optimization: Nos. 6,016,307; 6,144,641; 6,456,594; and 6,473,404. Granted in 2000 and 2002, all four patents -- credited to Kaplan and William F. McCarthy of Erie, Pa. -- describe a router architecture that uses memory and microprocessors to determine the best route to follow.

Specifically, all four patents say three pools of memory are used: one to store the data being forwarded; one for storing parameters of each path, such as cost, medium, and security level; and one for user priorities.

At least one expert is skeptical Kaplan has created anything special. Lawrence Roberts, CEO of Anagran Inc. and a pioneer of IP routing, notes that Kaplan has simply described techniques that have been used since the 70s.

"There are no algorithms or other unique ideas [in the patents], just claims that routers could decide a route based on more parameters than just cost. Of course, that is exactly what BGP and OSPF, etc., do today," Roberts writes in an email to Light Reading. Roberts believes the case is likely to lose in court.

Perez notes that the patents have gone through their fare share of tests for worthiness, including a hefty stack of prior art that was examined. "Despite all the significant materials provided to the patent office, four patents have been issued," he says.

Still, Roberts thinks the patents are "clearly a mistake of the patent office," adding that the case points to "one of the big problems we have today with a patent office that does not understand communications as well as many other things."

Kaplan took an unusual path into the telecom world. He'd subscribed to several religious motivational pamphlets that arrived by fax, and the complaint says he hit on the idea of becoming a relay point for all these groups, forwarding their faxes at prices lower than their long-distance fees would have been. When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 arrived, Kaplan decided to try starting his own telephone company. [Ed. note: Thank you, FCC!]

According to the complaint, Kaplan became a self-taught expert in telecom, eventually focusing on the possibility of sending fax and voice calls "in real-time" across the Internet. The complaint says Kaplan discovered "none of the available providers had the technology" to do this, and thus he began work building the machines that would eventually lead to his patents.

The complaint notes that Kaplan offered licenses to companies including Cisco and was turned down. Now -- surprise! -- he's accusing Cisco of having reaped enormous profits from unfair use of his invention.

In technology circles, many believe the U.S. Patent Office has been giving the nod to ideas that are too obvious and lack the germ of innovation that's supposed to be at the heart of every patent. Amazon.com, for example, drew an uproar in 1999 over collecting patents thought by many to be unfair, including its patent for single-click shopping.

Obviously, Kaplan doesn't have the firepower of Amazon. His case more resembles that of Jerome Lemelson, the Reno, Nev., inventor who died with more than 500 patents to his name. Many of them cover the basics of technologies such as bar-code readers and VCRs, and while Lemelson's estate continues to file lawsuits and collect royalties, many critics say his work should never have been patented.

Perez denies that Kaplan is a gold-digger, despite the fact that he has been issued no patents other than the ones prompting his lawsuit. "He's an inventor," Perez says. "I do understand that in 2004 people can say a lot of things, but you have to go back to 1996 and ask: Was it there? It wasn't."

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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road__runner
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road__runner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:07:03 AM
re: Floridian Sues Cisco Over Router Patents
The patent system is broken in today's technology driven world.

Lawyers throw in lots of legalese to win as many claims as possible. They are in a tough spot by having to deal with technology alien to them and changing faster than the time scale of the legal and patent process.

At the end of the day it becomes hard for everyone(techies as well as lawyers) to figure out what is truly original and what is just an existing idea restated in a different way.

Stevery
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Stevery,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:07:01 AM
re: Floridian Sues Cisco Over Router Patents
Fortunately in this case, there's quite a bit of prior art.

Which only means that the parties will settle for less than the $$$ for the case to be thrown out of court?
Tony Li
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Tony Li,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:07:01 AM
re: Floridian Sues Cisco Over Router Patents

Fortunately in this case, there's quite a bit of prior art.

Tony
mfg_boy
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mfg_boy,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:06:59 AM
re: Floridian Sues Cisco Over Router Patents
Mr. Li,

Would you please be kind enough to send an e-mail to peace_man6@hotmail.com I have a question for you.

Thank you
dljvjbsl
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dljvjbsl,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:06:56 AM
re: Floridian Sues Cisco Over Router Patents
Claim 1 from patent 6,473,404 is appended below. There are 68 other claims most of them dependent on a few independent claims similar to this one. Recall that the patent is strictly defined by its claims as illuminated by the specification.

There are a number of questions that need to be answered here:

a) Does Cisco actually use the technology as described in the patent. Not is some vague way that says cost, reliability etc can be evaluated but in a way that can be strictly extracted from the claim.

If Cisco does not use this technology, then the patent suit will fail

b) Assuming that Cisco does use the technology, is there prior art for it. This prior art can not be some vague idea that someone said could possibly be used. The claims and specification point out a method for doing this. Is there prior art for the specific claim

Note that the patent may be an improvement on previous public domain or patented technology. Someone using this technology may also have to license the previous technology but they cannot use the specific improvement without licensing it.

It would be very nice if people could answer these questions about the validity of the patent or the infringement rather than reading the same tedious diatribes against the patenting system that always attend such matters.

Remember this is Cisco we are discussing. I once sat in an IETF meeting that was the final meeting before an RFC was to be issued. The Cisco representatives (sorry in the IETF they are not Cisco but individual contributors GÇô want to by some land in Florida?) announced that the RFC in question (that they had been working on for a lengthy period of time) was covered under Cisco patents. Cisco would license this to any company at rates that they would set with the condition that if any company that licensed the technology in the RFC sued Cisco for any reason, Cisco would withdraw the license. Cisco owns the Internet and you had better accept that fact in other words.

Cisco owns the IETF and is not shy about using its patenting power to enforce that ownership. If Cisco is being sued by somebody and has to shell out millions, I personally will not be very upset.


1. In an apparatus comprising a plurality of interfaces, each of said interfaces interconnected with an associated data path capable of transferring data a towards a remote destination, each of said data paths having predetermined parameters associated therewith stored in a memory and variable parameters associated therewith, a method of servicing the data by examining the data and determining which of said plurality of data paths should be utilized for transferring the data towards the remote destination, said method comprising:

defining one or more first variable parameters for use in examining the data;

receiving the data;

examining the received data;

identifying the examined data which matches said one of the one or more first variable parameters;

analyzing a property of the identified data to be transferred;

measuring a second variable parameter for at least one path;

analyzing said measured second variable parameter and said predetermined parameters;

determining which of said paths provides an optimal set of characteristics for transferring the data towards the remote destination in accordance with said analyzed second variable parameter, predetermined parameters, and analyzed data property; and

transferring the identified data to the remote destination.


dljvjbsl
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dljvjbsl,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:06:55 AM
re: Floridian Sues Cisco Over Router Patents
As usual for this topic, we see jerimiads agaisn the patenting system. We hear how patents allow companies to profit from patents that in themsleves mean very little.

Taking this issue as an example, look at the router market. It is Cisco and the dwarves. How could any company reasonably expect to break into this market or even be paid for its technoogy unless it had some protection it.

Think of what would happen if patents became very difficult to get. Technology would not become free. Cisco marketing people would make very sure of that. Instead Cisco would simply appropriate any new technolgy by virtue of its dominant position and use it for its own benefit. Innovators would find that any work that they produce would belong to Cisco by fiat. Customers would pay the Cisco tax for their infrastrucuture and learn to shut up.
dljvjbsl
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dljvjbsl,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:06:55 AM
re: Floridian Sues Cisco Over Router Patents

As Tony says, this claim could overlap with any of a number of well established prior art.

Policy based routing seems closest in principle to what is being described here and as we all know that has existed for well over a decade now.

This could also describe anything from multipath routing to routing onto an NBMA/ML-PPP/ link aggregation bundle to even non IP technologies like Source Route Bridging and SNA!


This is exactly what I mean. The patent describes a quite specific linear algorithm for making a routing decision. The message above points out a laundry list of technology that could vaguely be descrubed at leat to be in the same area.

It could be that the patent is merely an variation on existing techniques. Kaplan couild patent it but others would be just as free to use their own variants as well. Unless the idscussion gets specific as to the application of the individual claims then there will be no understanding of what this issue ia about.

road__runner
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road__runner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:06:55 AM
re: Floridian Sues Cisco Over Router Patents
As Tony says, this claim could overlap with any of a number of well established prior art.

Policy based routing seems closest in principle to what is being described here and as we all know that has existed for well over a decade now.

This could also describe anything from multipath routing to routing onto an NBMA/ML-PPP/ link aggregation bundle to even non IP technologies like Source Route Bridging and SNA!

Tony Li
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Tony Li,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:06:53 AM
re: Floridian Sues Cisco Over Router Patents

I suggest that folks consider the IGRP patent (that predates this) and the effects of caching. I would argue that if this claim 1 was enhanced by caching all of the variable parameter decisions (another well-known technique), that it would be a clear restatement of the claims of the IGRP patent.

Fortunately, I'm not an attorney,
Tony
santalk2000
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santalk2000,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 1:06:53 AM
re: Floridian Sues Cisco Over Router Patents

No one wants prolonged legal battle.
Out of court settlement for $1-3M and attorneys get 70-80% of it.
I guess that's the goal!
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