Juniper, Palo Alto on Course for Patent Trial

A judge rejects efforts by both companies to end the case in their favors, setting up a trial that is scheduled for Feb. 24.

Juniper Networks and Palo Alto Networks appear headed to trial in their patent infringement dispute after a federal judge in Delaware rejected Juniper's request to have the court rule in its favor before trial and also refusing Palo Alto's motion to have the case dismissed for lack of evidence.

That means that unless an agreement is reached soon, the two companies—which have been disputing since 2011 over allegations that Palo Alto used Juniper patents in building its next-generation firewall products—will be in court for a trial scheduled to start Feb. 24.

Juniper filed suit more than two years ago, alleging that while the technology used by Palo Alto in its next-generation firewalls was invented by the founders of Palo Alto, the patents to the technology belong to Juniper. Nir Zuk and Yuming Mao worked on the technology in question as executives at NetScreen before joining Juniper, which bought NetScreen in 2004. The two men left Juniper in 2005 to form Palo Alto.

Juniper is alleging that Palo Alto infringed on seven patents that were developed by NetScreen and that were inherited by Juniper when it bought the company.

Officials with both companies claimed victory in the court's Feb. 6 rulings. Juniper executives, in a prepared statement, noted that Judge Sue Robinson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware granted the company's motion for summary judgment on assignor estoppel—a doctrine prohibiting a patent's seller from questioning the validity of the patent in legal disputes later—on the patents.

"The significance of that ruling is that Palo Alto Networks (PAN) will not be able to claim that the patents are invalid," the Juniper executives said. "Additionally, the judge rejected PAN's requests to dismiss Juniper's seven patents from the case, holding that Juniper may present its claims to the jury on all patents. Juniper intends to continue vigorously defending and protecting against the willful infringement of its intellectual property, and we look forward to our upcoming day in court."

Palo Alto officials applauded Robinson's rejection of Juniper's request for summary judgment and approvals of some requests by Palo Alto.

"We believe the ruling is consistent with our position that we do not infringe these patents," Palo Alto CEO Mark McLaughlin said in a statement. “From the outset, we said we would vigorously defend the Company against Juniper's lawsuit. Our business has always been focused on delivering unique offerings for our customers. We remain committed to defending our products against unwarranted claims of patent infringement."