In a new twist in competitor-based lawsuits involving cloud computing, Centripetal Networks, a relative newcomer, filed a patent lawsuit against industry incumbent and Fortune 100 Company Cisco in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in February 2018. Centripetal has focused its technology on network intelligence and security solutions since its founding in 2009. In its 136 page complaint against the networking solutions giant, Centripetal has alleged infringement of ten patents (out of its total portfolio of fourteen patents).
Cisco, founded in 1984, has long been a recognized leader in networking solutions. Its annual net revenue last year was $48 billion, putting it at #60 on the Fortune 100 list, and is without question the largest networking company in the world. Centripetal has grown its presence in the networking market with introduction of its Threat Intelligence Gateway, RuleGATE. Centripetal, on its website, presents itself as “inventor of the first threat intelligence gateway.”
In its 136 page complaint, Centripetal highlights its recognition as an innovative technology company as evidenced by its selection as a SINET 16 Innovator for 2017. It claims to be the “forerunner in developing cybersecurity technologies” for automating threat intelligence. It also puts emphasis on its research and development efforts leading to the grant of several patents. Centripetal has lodged a very detailed complaint, asserting infringement of ten of its patents granted between 2015 and 2017. Those patents relate to filtering rules to detect network threats, and improving flow of data packets between networks to provide network protection with “real-time attack visualization and analytics.” It alleges infringement by a number of Cisco’s products, including routers and switches using IOS XE 16.6 Networking software, Stealthwatch Cloud products, and ASA with FirePOWER Services.
The accused routers allow “provision of multiple devices using policy based automation from edge to cloud.” The Cisco Cloud Services Router (CSR) 1000V can be deployed as a virtual machine in a provider-hosted cloud or in its own virtual environment. The accused Stealthwatch Cloud products provide automatic configuration and threat detection in real time for both public cloud and private networks. It is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution delivered to client from the cloud. Stealthwatch Cloud uses behavior-modeling and dynamic learning to create a model for each device and network entity to detect various types of threats. It also provides public cloud threat detection services to secure workloads in Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure environments.
Centripetal also claims that Cisco willfully infringed the asserted patents. Unlike our recently reported cases (see posts on Citrix and BMC Software) involving executives jumping ship to emerging competitors, Centripetal alleges that Cisco’s acquisition of ThreatGRID directly led to Cisco’s exposure to the patented technology. Centripetal claims that ThreatGRID included threat intelligence technology which Centripetal integrated with its products that use the asserted patents when it partnered with ThreatGRID in 2014, prior to Cisco’s acquisition. Centripetal has also alleged that Cisco invited Centripetal to demonstrate its technology at Cisco Live in 2016, and has since been aware of RuleGATE’s patented technology, in addition to listing Centripetal as “a partner ecosystem whose threat intelligence platforms” use ThreatGRID.”
Centripetal’s move to file its second ever lawsuit against a giant competitor like Cisco is a bold move to be sure. While Centripetal seemingly has confidence in its asserted patents, it’s not very often that an emerging company puts virtually its entire patent portfolio on the line against an established market leader. The lawsuit is still in its early stages, and Cisco has not yet responded to the complaint. It seems reasonable to expect that Cisco will strike back hard, with a counter patent infringement lawsuit as well as a challenge to the validity and alleged infringement of Centripetal’s patents. It’s also interesting to contemplate Centripetal’s end goal in this case. Do they really believe they will land an injunction or large monetary judgment on Cisco, and do they have the determination to spend millions of dollars to see this litigation through? Or are they looking to provoke a cross-licensing discussion to gain access to Cisco’s massively larger patent portfolio? Regardless, if Centripetal fails to land a meaningful result in this case, that will not only be a major blow to Centripetal’s nascent patent portfolio, but also its standing in the industry.