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NA Sniffs Out Patent

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LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
3/29/2004

A wireless LAN patent that has just been awarded to Network Associates Inc. (NYSE: NET) that could shake up the emerging market for enterprise 802.11 intrusion detection systems (IDS). Maybe.

U.S. Patent 6,693,888, entitled "Method and Apparatus for Filtering that Specifies the Types of Frames to be Captured and to be Displayed for an IEEE 802.11 Wireless LAN," covers various methods for capturing and filtering data frames transmitted over a WiFi network, according to Network Associates (see Network Associates Gets Patent).

In other words, this intellectual property relates to monitoring the performance -- and security -- of a wireless WLAN network.

The patent derives from Network Associates' Sniffer wireless network monitoring software. "Many people associate innovation with startups, and they don't realize that innovation comes every day from large companies like Sniffer Technologies [a business unit of Network Associates] and IBM," sniffs Christopher Thompson, VP of product marketing for the Sniffer products, instantly qualifying himself as an early contestant in "Unstrung's Top 20 Most Eye-Wateringly Bad Quotes of 2004" competition.

Indeed, the patent could make life interesting for wireless LAN networking monitoring startups such as AirMagnet Inc. and others (see Wireless IDS Is All the Rage).

Network Associates says it hasn't decided if it will try to get startups to license it yet. "It's really too soon to say. We first have to look at them and establish if they're in need of licensing this technology," Thompson hedges.

A spokesman for AirMagnet says that it is also too soon for the startup to comment. "AirMagnet's going to review the patent first," he says [jolly sensibly]. Craig Mathias, with analyst and consulting firm the Farpoint Group, doubts that what he sees as a "broad" patent would hold much sway if Network Associates did decide to try to enforce its IP.

"I'm usually pretty skeptical about patents," he says. "Just because it's a legal entity and they can be challenged in court, they can be modified and they can be thrown out."

"Somebody could tie them up in court with this for years... in the end, it's only the lawyers that get richer. But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt... they may really have something here... but the wording is pretty broad." — Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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