Optical/IP Networks

AirTight's Patent Play

Wireless LAN security startup AirTight Networks Inc. is the latest company in the enterprise wireless world to stake out territory in the intellectual-property wars.

With a patent newly awarded this morning, the Mountain View, Calif.-based firm is talking to other companies in the market about licensing products based on its technology. (See AirTight Wins Patent.) At least one rival startup, however, AirDefense Inc. , says it will dispute the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decision, claiming "prior art."

U.S. patent number 7,002,943 covers the detection and classification of threats on a wireless LAN network, blocking those threats while detecting others, and locating the problems on a floor map so they can be removed.

"We got the official notification this morning that it had been awarded," explains Dennis Tsu, VP of marketing at AirTight. "We think we have some unique intellectual property and we want to protect it."

According to Tsu, AirTight has already licensed its technology to Colubris Networks Inc. and Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) and is "in talks with a number of other companies."

Security startup AirDefense is not one of them. "AirDefense has not licensed our technology... We consider them a rival," reports Tsu.

For its part, AirDefense will fight the AirTight patent, claiming that its previously filed patent applications cover this technology.

"We filed the patents that cover this subject matter in June 2002," claims CEO Anil Khatod, "more than two years prior to AirTight."

The CEO says AirDefense will go back to the Patent Office and ask for another examination to review the patent in question. "We will follow the process required to protect our intellectual property."

It's no surprise that companies in the wireless security field should enter the patent fray, which has recently embroiled BlackBerry and others in the wireless industry. (See Mobile Email Monoculture Fades)

WiFi security is an increasingly pressing issue for enterprise wireless LAN users, and offers a potentially lucrative market for startups in the field. Some of the most high-profile acquisitions of late -- such as Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR)'s buyout of Funk Software -- have been tied directly to wireless LAN security (See Juniper Gets Funky).

Crowded with startups looking for profits, the intrusion detection market is ripe for a shakeout, as AirTight's Tsu acknowledges. (See IDS Shakeout Ahead?.)

"At some point within the next three to five years there will be consolidation in the market." he tells Unstrung. "Having patents around our intellectual property will make us more attractive." AirTight has another 14 potential patents in the works, while AirDefense has filed 18.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

lrmobile_rusty 12/5/2012 | 4:05:25 AM
re: AirTight's Patent Play I read their patent and it is laughable. I hate the fact that having an *idea* for something will allow you to gain intellectual property rights. This particular patent offers little in the area of technological specifics. It is just the *idea* of sniffing packets, having traffic alarms, counteracting rogues, etc.

This whole IP patent trend is really disturbing and I wish there would be some type of patent law reform. Having a good idea is such an incredibly minimal part of business success. The success generally comes from producing the technology that brings the idea to life, marketing the idea, selling the idea and having good leadership that sees where the idea fits in the market.

The other thing that bothers me is this incessant use of the word "protect". As in, "we need to protect our IP...," by extorting money from real businesses. The way to "protect" your IP is to make a quality product that people want to buy. Filing patent claims based on broad ideas only stifles creativity and bogs down the potential realization of even more advanced technologies.

Time to wrap this up. I've got to go file a dozen patents on movie ideas so that I can sue the pants off Universal Pictures next summer.
lrmobile_skeptic 12/5/2012 | 4:05:22 AM
re: AirTight's Patent Play Airtight (then called Wibu) got beat by Ekahau when they were in the locationing market. Now, they are getting beat by AirDefense, Air Magnet and Network Chemistry in wireless IDS/IPS. If this patent was filed in 2004, there will be loads of prior art.

Maybe Airtight can go raise another round and use their (fairly attractive) GUI for another market they dont have the technical chops for?
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