US university starts patent battle with Symantec


A New York university has accused software company Symantec of using its confidential information for claims in a patent and concealing the initial application from view.

Columbia University in the City of New York (Columbia), says the claims in Symantec's patent for computer security methods is based on the work of its professors and researchers and that the Mountain-View based company is infringing five other patents.

The university says the information was obtained after it collaborated with Symantec to submit proposals to the US government on preventing malicious computer attacks.

Columbia claims Symantec later adopted the work of its researchers and subsequently filed patent applications based on the work without crediting them.

“After Columbia disclosed technical information … provided drafts of grant proposals and even told Symantec that Columbia had filed patent applications on the technology, Symantec filed its own applications … without listing the Columbia researchers and inventors,” it said in a complaint filed at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Columbia adds that Symantec asked the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to not publish its application in the usual method (after 18 months) and instead wait until it had been issued in a bid to prevent Columbia from “discovering the truth.”

The disputed patent, US number 8,549,643 (643 patent), which claims to identify potential computer security threats, was issued on October 1, with a Symantec employee listed as the sole inventor.

Columbia is seeking that the patent’s details be corrected to list the true inventors and secure its rights on the patent.

Furthermore, it adds that it owns another five patents relating to similar technology which are being infringed by Symantec.

It says the patents were developed at its Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) Lab, which has produced around 20 patents.

The complaint, filed on December 5, says Symantec was “well aware” of the work of the IDS Lab and had knowledge of all the patents involved.

Columbia alleges it wrote to Symantec in August 2012 to discuss licensing arrangements for the patents. It alleges that Symantec ignored the communication and that by October 2013 it had been granted the 643 patent.

“Now that the application has become publicly available, Columbia has learnt that Symantec was not candid with the USPTO or with Columbia,” it adds.

Columbia has asked for a court order barring further infringement and the addition of two of its researchers’ names as inventors on the disputed patent. It is also demanding damages, litigation costs and attorney fees.

A spokesman for Symantec said it would not comment on pending litigation.

Columbia did not respond to requests to comment.

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