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Patent Trolls Go After Firewall Companies Using Lapsed Patent

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 30, 2015 11:59 AM

Perhaps you've heard of a firewall. If you're an architect, you might be thinking of the actual fire-proof walls used to stop the spread of blaze from, say, apartment to apartment. If you're pretty much anyone else, a firewall is one of the many network settings you may have tinkered with when configuring your Internet. A computer firewall is a network security system that controls incoming and outgoing traffic, creating a barrier between your internal network and the flaming, virus-filled Internet.

Firewalls have been common since the 90's. Which is why it might be surprising to learn that an "inventor" patented firewalls in 2000. Though he let his patent expire, it has recently been picked up by a patent troll, who is using it sue pretty much everyone who sells products related to network security.

Not the World's Most Novel Invention

The Electronic Frontier Foundation featured the "garbage patent" as July's "Stupid Patent of the Month." For all their month write ups -- at least one of which has gotten them sued -- this month's patent truly takes the cake.

The patent, number 6,795,918, was filed in March, 2000, and claims to have invented a computer security system that filters data based on source, destination, and protocol information -- a basic firewall. Sure, the patent adds some features that make it unchangeable by the user, but, as the EFF points out, that's not much of an improvement.

The most shocking thing about the current litigation, however, is that the patent has lapsed. The inventor, Steven Trolan, stopped paying the maintenance fee three years ago. But, since patent infringement suits have a six year statute of limitations, the patent's new owners, Wetro Lan, LLC, can still sue people for alleged violations that began before 2012. And have they ever, filing dozens of suits in the Eastern District of Texas.

There Must Be a Lot of Bridges in Texas

As the EFF notes, this is classic patent trolling, filing nuisance suits based on questionable patents not in order to stop any actual infringement but with the likely goal of receiving a settlement.

E.D. Tex has become a bit of a Mecca for this industry, since local rules limit the availability of summary judgment. That means companies are much more likely to be pressured into settling to avoid a trial -- especially since the district's summary judgment grants are significantly less common than the national average.

If only there was a legal firewall that could keep patent trolls out.

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