Jury rules for Finjan in lawsuit against Secure Computing

Latter vendor disputes verdict and validity of Web security rival's malware detection patents

IT security vendor Finjan this week won a patent-infringement lawsuit that it filed two years ago against Secure Computing and two other companies that Secure Computing had previously acquired. But Secure Computing insisted that it hasn't infringed on Finjan's patents and said that it will seek to overturn the verdict in the case.

In fact, the two vendors didn't even agree on the number of patents that Secure Computing was found to have infringed upon. Finjan said a federal jury in Delaware ruled that Secure Computing and the two companies it acquired had willfully infringed on three patents related to Finjan's Web gateway appliances. In return, Secure Computing said that the jury had rejected Finjan's infringement claims on one of the three patents -- prompting Finjan to say it was standing by its assertion that the infringement ruling covered all three patents.

According to a statement issued by Finjan, the jury ordered Secure Computing to pay Finjan 16 per cent of the revenue from past sales of its Webwasher software and 8% of the revenue from both a Webwasher appliance and its CyberGuard TSP gateway device.

Secure Computing, which like Finjan is based in San Jose, acquired firewall and VPN vendor CyberGuard in 2005 for about US$295 million in cash and stock. A year earlier, CyberGuard had bought Webwasher, a Germany-based company that sold Web filtering products.

In an interview Thursday, Yuval Ben-Itzhak, Finjan's chief technology officer, said the patents in question all have to do with proactive, real-time malware detection and mitigation capabilities that are built into his company's Web security products.

One of the patents covers a technology developed by Finjan for detecting previously unknown malware on networks, Ben-Itzhak said, adding that the technology eliminates the need for existing malware signatures in order to detect and block malicious code.

The second patent under dispute covers a "sandboxing" technology that is designed to mitigate the effects of malicious code if it is executed on a computer, while the third patent is related to a hashing function, according to Ben-Itzhak.

In a statement of its own, Secure Computing contended that Finjan's patents are invalid. The company also said that, despite the jury's ruling, it still doesn't think it has infringed on the patents "in any way."

According to Secure Computing, Webwasher's proactive scanning technology uses heuristic rules to categorize how executable code is likely to behave on systems. The company said that heuristic code-analysis methods "were known and in use" before Finjan filed for any of its patents and that the specific rules used in the Webwasher product line resulted from "original research" done at Webwasher.

Secure Computing added that the only disputed technology still being used in the latest version of Webwasher's software is a proactive-scanning feature employed in a single module. Nonetheless, the vendor vowed to continue defending itself, initially by asking the trial judge to set aside the jury verdict. If that fails, Secure Computing said it plans to appeal the ruling.

In addition, the company noted that a separate patent-infringement suit it has filed against Finjan over load-balancing technology is still pending in US District Court in Delaware.

In response to a request for comment about the patent disputes, a spokeswoman for Secure Computing simply sent a copy of the company's statement via e-mail.

As part of the statement, Mary Budge, Secure Computing's senior vice president, secretary and general counsel, said company officials are "clearly disappointed" by the jury verdict on Finjan's suit but think they have "substantial grounds" for pursuing an appeal. "We are extremely motivated to challenge this result, and we plan to take all the necessary steps to overturn it," Budge said.

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