$185m anti-malware patent dispute: Norton and Columbia University fight on

Decade-old spat over security tech not over yet as New York institution files for enhanced damages

NortonLifeLock and Columbia University's legal tussle over anti-malware patents continued last week, with attorney fees and a new trial in dispute two months after a jury awarded the uni $185 million.

In 2013, Columbia sued Norton and accused the company of infringing 167 claims over six patents. Although the May award went Columbia's way, it has since asked for additional attorneys' fees.

The security company has countered this [PDF] by saying that the "purpose of an award of attorneys' fees under the Patent Act is to compensate a prevailing party that was forced to litigate a case that was 'exceptional,' either because the party's case was remarkably weak or baseless, or because the other party engaged in vexatious litigation misconduct. Neither applies here."

It went on to explain that "Norton defeated 90 percent of those claims, leaving Columbia with only 18 claims in two patents."

The two patents at issue are 8,601,322 and 8,074,115, which are related to the detection of malware. The New York university filed its patent application for the latter on October 25, 2006, and the former on November 21, 2011. Both applications were granted in 2011 and 2013 respectively.

Norton's take was that it launched the SONAR/BASH feature in 2009, before the patents were granted. "Norton could not have copied Columbia's asserted patents," it said, "because it launched SONAR/BASH in 2009 before either patent existed."

At trial, Columbia presented four claims of two patents and pretty much won the day; the jury rejected its concealment claim but concluded that Norton had willfully infringed.

The award, while 20 percent less than Columbia had been looking for, was substantial and close-run. The jury had been deadlocked and Norton described the verdict as "split." Columbia was awarded $185.1 million over the infringing products.

But it's far from over. Columbia filed a motion on June 3 for enhanced damages (attorneys are expensive) and the two filed further legal paperwork at the end of the last week. Norton denied copying Columbia's technology and thundered: "Norton's conduct does not come close to the level of culpability necessary for an award of enhanced damages."

For its part, Columbia also attempted to swat away [PDF] what it saw as a bid by the cybersecurity company for a new trial. Its motion described the jury as "attentive" and, unsurprisingly, requested that Norton's renewed Motion for Judgement as a Matter of Law "be denied in full."

The Register contacted Columbia's attorneys as well those for Norton. Both have yet to respond. In the meantime, the lawsuits seem set to continue as litigation over the technology slips into its second decade. ®

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