Jury turns down SSL patent claim

A jury has struck down four patent-infringement claims against two Internet security companies, and a judge threw out a fifth, in a Delaware trial in which a retired electronics engineer claimed to have invented a popular method for processing secure transactions over the Internet.

In a case that could have raised the cost of commerce on the Web, Leon Stambler, of Florida, had asked for millions of dollars from VeriSign Inc. and RSA Security Inc. to compensate him for the use of his technology. But a jury in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware, threw out four of his claims Friday, after Judge Sue L. Robinson had earlier thrown out the fifth.

Stambler was granted seven patents between November 1993 and October 1999 and has asserted that the patents cover Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), a commonly used Web security standard used to scramble data during Internet transactions between Web sites and their customers.

In February 2001, Stambler filed a patent infringement lawsuit against several companies, a couple of which have since settled with him. VeriSign and RSA Security refused to settle, and their trial started in late February.

The case isn't over yet, however. A second trial, focusing on the validity of Stambler's patents, starts Wednesday in Delaware, and Stambler's lawyer, Douglas Whitney, said he believes he will have grounds to appeal the jury verdict, depending on the outcome of the second trial. The Delaware court will also review jury decisions from both of the trials and could potentially overturn them, Whitney added.

"It's the first round in a 10-rounder," Whitney said. "They're not off the hook. They've won the first round, and there are several proceedings ahead of us."

A spokesman for RSA Security called the jury decision a "small victory," but said the company is still watching the second trial and any potential appeals.

"We felt it was important to protect our customers and partners who rely on this important technology to conduct business," said Tim Powers, manager of corporate communications for RSA.

VeriSign did not have an immediate comment on the jury's decision.

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