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Cloudflare offers $100,000 for prior art to nuke networking patents a troll has accused it of ripping off

Picking intellectual property fights with internet backbone biz seldom ends well

Cloudflare today offered $100,000 for evidence of prior art to kill off a bunch of patents it is accused of infringing.

Sable Networks, which took over the intellectual property of failed "flow-based router" startup Caspian Networks in the mid-2000s, sued Cloudflare and five other companies in March, claiming they ripped off four patents belonging to Caspian that involved directing data over a computer network. This lawsuit followed eight other infringement claims filed by Sable against Cisco, Juniper Networks, and others, all of which were apparently settled out of court.

The four are US 6,954,431, 6,977,932, 7,012,919, and 8,243,593.

"It's not unusual for people to get a first round of settlements and use that to fill their coffers," Doug Kramer, general counsel at Cloudflare, told The Register on Monday. The patents involved are barely related to Cloudflare's business, he said, and now the internet giant is fighting back to invalidate the the patents and have the case thrown out.

As such, Cloudflare is resuscitating Project Jengo, its campaign against against Blackbird Technologies in 2017 – and is offering bounties for prior art not only on the patents Sable is suing over but the rest of its portfolio as well.

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"We're going after the other six patents Sable holds because we want to push back," Kramer said. "It's helpful to go beyond the initial case if you're going to show the recklessness of these firms. There has to be a corresponding risk for them."

Not that it seems there's much of a company to dissuade. Sable's phone number and website are no longer in service, and Kramer said the organization has shown no detectable activity since 2011 – and noted "we were being generous with that estimation."

The last time Cloudflare offered a bounty for prior art, it ultimately got Blackbird's infringement allegations thrown out of court and the patents in question invalidated. Back then it put up $50,000 to pay for prior art, and a donor matched it. Now the internet backbone biz is putting up the full six-figures, and will make all authenticated prior art finds public to use against similar wobbly patent-infringement complaints.

It isn't just documents that are important in demonstrating prior art, Kramer said: people are useful, too. Engineers who worked on Caspian's patented technology – the four patents Cloudflare is being sued over were filed between 2000 and 2004 – could tell a court the designs were based on prior work.

Cloudflare isn't alone in taking direct action against patent trolls' war chests. Last year Intel, Apple, Cisco, and Google sued the US Patent and Trademark Office because it was making it harder for tech companies to appeal overly broad patents. Earlier, IBM, the Linux Foundation and Microsoft set up a fighting fund to protect open-source projects from baseless infringement claims. ®

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