Juniper vs. Palo Alto Networks: Firewall court battle set to begin

Call it the fist fight over firewalls for 2014. Juniper Networks is going for a knock-out against rival Palo Alto Networks in a patent-dispute lawsuit related to next-generation firewalls that's set to go to trial in Delaware in February. And Palo Alto wants to take out Juniper in its own separate patent lawsuit.

Juniper alleges that Palo Alto's firewalls are based on intellectual property that Juniper gained in its $4 billion acquisition of NetScreen in 2004, and that this technology was developed by Nir Zuk, the former CTO at NetScreen, and Yuming Mao, a former engineering architect there. Later, Zuk and Mao went off to found Palo Alto, a maker of application-aware, or next-generation, firewalls. Juniper is seeking an injunction to bar firewall sales by Palo Alto and possibly reap monetary damages as well.

Palo Alto declined to talk about the lawsuit, and sources at Juniper spoke only on background. But the Juniper lawsuit, which commenced as legal filings two years ago and is now expected to go to a jury trial in Wilmington, Del., speaks for itself.

+ Also on NetworkWorld: Juniper unveils new fabric switch architecture | VMware and Palo Alto Networks team for virtual networking security +

The centerpiece in this firewall fight is a patent called "Method and Apparatus for Implementing a Layer 3/Layer 7 Firewall in L2 Device," (patent #7,779,459) . Juniper alleges Palo Alto is infringing this patent by making and selling its PA-5000, PA-4000 and PA-2000 Series Firewalls as well as the PA-500 and PA-2000 Firewalls.

Calling it the 459 patent for short, Juniper is railing against Palo Alto, claiming the firm "knew that these products infringed the 459 patent and intended that third parties using these products would infringe the 459 patent. One fact among others, that evidences [Palo Alto's] knowledge and intent, is that Yuming Mao, co-founder of [Palo Alto Networks], was an inventor of the 459 patent."

Juniper also claims Palo Alto is infringing several other patents, including two owned by Juniper titled "Intelligent Integrated Network Security Device," ( #7,650,634), and "Method and Apparatus for Implementing a Layer 3/Layer 7 Firewall in an L2 Device, (#7,302,700). The latter, says Juniper, among other patents cited, was also invented by Yuming Mao.

But Palo Alto will be fighting hard to defend itself. And back in September, the company launched its own patent-infringement lawsuit against Juniper in the Northern District Court of California, alleging its rival is violating three of its patents in Juniper products.

It's uncertain who will win in any of this, and the appeals process could go on for some time if there's no settlement. But the results of this patent-lawsuit smackdown should be of great interest to customers as well as financial analysts and industry researchers. A jury in Wilmington could be hearing a lot about next-generation firewalls in February as lawyers for both sides argue about network technologies that can be a challenge for even experienced IT security managers to understand.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail:

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