Engineer Loses SSL Patent Battle

Engineer claimed a technology he patented is the basis for the SSL protocol used in nearly all e-commerce transactions.

A jury on Friday ruled that an engineers claims that two of the biggest security companies in the industry infringed on his patent for technology contained in the ubiquitous SSL protocol are baseless.

Leon Stambler, an electrical engineer, sued RSA Security Inc. and its former subsidiary, VeriSign Inc., two years ago. He claims that a technology that he patented back in the early 1990s is the basis for the Secure Sockets Layer protocol used in virtually every e-commerce transaction today.

RSA and Netscape Communications Inc., now part of AOL Time Warner Inc., developed SSL and patented it in 1997. Stambler was seeking up to $20 million in damages.

The ruling is an important one not only for the companies involved, but for any firm selling technology that incorporates SSL. Had the jury gone the other way, the ruling could have had widespread effects on the way SSL and its descendant technologies are used.

Officials at RSA are happy to see the suit done with.

"RSA is very pleased with the results of the case and have always believed that Mr. Stamblers claims were without merit," said Tim Powers, manager of corporate communications at RSA, based in Bedford, Mass. "Were happy to have this distraction behind us."

Stambler filed his suit in February 2001 in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware in Wilmington. RSA and VeriSign were not the only defendants; Stambler also sued Openwave Systems Inc., First Data Corp, Omnisky Corp., and later, Certicom Corp. Omnisky later went bankrupt, and the three other companies each settled with Stambler.

SSL support is included in every Web browser on the market and is used to encrypt sensitive traffic to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of the message. RSA and VeriSign, as well as the other original defendants, sell products that utilize SSL.

The case isnt over yet, however. The jury next week will begin hearing testimony on a separate phase of the suit, which will determine whether Stamblers patents are even valid.

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