Cloudflare defeats another patent troll with crowd-sourced prior-art army

The bounty payouts may be high, but Project Jengo doesn't miss

When it comes to defeating patent trolls with crowd-sourced prior art, Cloudflare is now two-for-two after winning its latest case against Sable Networks.

Sable Networks, which owns patents originally given to defunct "flow-based router" company Caspian Networks, sued Cloudflare and five other companies in 2021 alleging a whole host of violations of four patents now owned by Sable. 

A lot has changed since the case was filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, leading to a jury verdict last week that found Cloudflare not only didn't infringe on the single patent that made it to trial, but that the final patent claim at issue was invalid as well. It took the jury just two hours to return the result, Cloudflare said.

"Since Sable first sued us, we've invalidated significant parts of three Sable patents, hamstringing their ability to bring lawsuits against other companies," Cloudflare's in-house counsel boasted on Monday. 

Jengo rides again

Cloudflare said that it managed to whittle the case down from four patents and "approximately 100 claims" to a single claim on one patent - number 7,012,919 - over the past three years. This is thanks in part to the assistance of outside investigators on Project Jengo, a scheme first launched in 2017 to get help digging up prior-art patents when Cloudflare sued by another patent troll, Blackbird Technologies.

"The patents relied on by Sable were filed around the turn of the century, and they addressed the hardware-based router technology of the day," Cloudflare said. "More specifically, they addressed a particular type of hardware focused on 'flows' composed of multiple linked packets. 

"This approach is not used by modern-day software-defined services delivered on the cloud, particularly not services like Cloudflare that handle traffic on a packet-by-packet basis," Cloudflare added. 

To help with the Sable case Cloudflare kicked off a new round of Project Jengo, a bounty scheme first launched in 2017 that pays volunteers for digging up prior-art patents, when sued by another patent troll Blackbird Technologies. 

Blackbird accused Cloudflare of infringing on a purchased patent from 2002 regarding third-party sources injecting data into connections between a client and a server. As we noted when the Blackbird case was filed, the particulars of this patent are nothing like Cloudflare's actual approach. 

The Blackbird case ended in Cloudflare's favor, and the content delivery network paid out more than $50k to 18 individuals who submitted prior art findings through Project Jengo. Blackbird has since gone out of business.

So far $70k has been awarded so far in the Sable round of Project Jengo, Cloudflare said, with an additional $30k set to go out after the case is wrapped up. 

"Relying on prior art, we filed petitions for inter partes review to the US Patent and Trademark Office seeking to invalidate Sable's patents," Cloudflare said. "To avoid responding to one of those petitions … Sable voluntarily canceled all of the claims asserted against Cloudflare under one of its patents. And in January 2023, we were successful in invalidating the portions of a second Sable patent that had been asserted against us." 

A summary judgment invalidated the third patent, Cloudflare said, leaving just the one patent claim left. With the jury's verdict, that final patent is now invalid as well. 

"Patent trolls create what we consider to be an unfair, unjust, and inefficient system that throttles innovation and threatens emerging companies," Cloudflare told The Register. "Thursday's victory is an important validation that we can successfully fight back against the threat to innovation posed by patent trolls."

Lawyers for Sable Networks didn't respond to questions for this story. ®

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