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Thursday, April 14, 2005
Microsoft hit with patent injunction

A preliminary injunction in a patent infringement suit filed by Alacritech could keep Microsoft's Longhorn from getting out of the gate.

Microsoft plans to ship its next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, in 2006. But Alacritech claims Longhorn includes its intellectual property.

On Wednesday, a district court judge granted the networking and storage software vendor a preliminary injunction that could prevent the world's largest software maker from making, using, offering for sale, selling, importing or inducing others to use its "Chimney" TCP offload architecture.

TCP Chimney, which offloads the TCP protocol stack to a Network Interface Card for better network performance, is slated for use in both Longhorn and in the Scalable Networking Pack for Windows Server 2003.

Alacritech sued Microsoft in Federal District Court on August 11, 2004, alleging that Microsoft's existing and future operating systems containing the "Chimney" TCP offload architecture uses Alacritech's SLIC Technology architecture.

The suit is based on two of Alacritech's fundamental patents relating to scalable networking: U.S. Patent No. 6,427,171 and U.S. Patent No. 6,697,868, both entitled "Protocol Processing Stack for use with Intelligent Network Interface Device."

Alacritech claims to be the sole provider of network acceleration products for Microsoft Windows-based systems. It has been issued sixteen patents covering the fundamentals of network data placement, protocol offload, protocol acceleration and file cache offload.

According to Alacritech, the company met with Microsoft and described its own Dynamic TCP Offload architecture, known as SLIC Technology, under a non-disclosure agreement in September 1998. Then, in April 1999, at Microsoft's request, it delivered a detailed document describing how SLIC could be integrated with Windows. It then shipped its first product based on SLIC in April 2000.

Microsoft broke off communications with Alacritech in June 1999, according to Alacritech, then presented Chimney in May 2003.

Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake told internetnews.com that Alacritech learned about Microsoft's Chimney technology when it was announced at the Windows Hardware and Engineering Conference in 2003.

"As an intellectual property company, we invest heavily in research and development, and are committed to respecting the intellectual property rights of others," she said.

Drake said Alacritech was one of a number of offload vendors that Microsoft worked with "to validate the design, in its early state." She would not comment on whether licensing discussions between the two companies ever took place.

"After Alacritech discovered that Microsoft Chimney is based on intellectual property that we developed, patented and own, we offered Microsoft a license," Larry Boucher, president and CEO of Alacritech, said in a statement. "Microsoft rejected licensing terms that would be acceptable to us. We were forced to sue Microsoft to stop them from continuing to infringe, and inducing others to infringe, on our intellectual property rights." The company refused further comment.

Alacritech's story is similar to that of Burst.com, which won a $60 million settlement and license agreement from Microsoft in March. The provider of technology to accelerate the delivery of video and audio over IP networks claimed that Microsoft stole technology and trade secrets acquired during two years of negotiations, incorporating Burst.com intellectual property into Windows Media Player.

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