Joe Mullin

Patents that only recently were in the hands of Hewlett Packard Enterprise were used last week to sue several companies that build switches and routers, including Cisco, Juniper Networks, and Facebook. A recently created shell company called Plectrum LLC filed the lawsuits in the Eastern District of Texas.

The lawsuits are remarkable in part because Hewlett Packard is a company that only recently prided itself on not allowing its patents to be used for offensive purposes, even if they got sold. That attitude started changing about five years ago. Patent office records show that HP transferred the two patents in these lawsuits to Plectrum in September. On Thursday, Plectrum sued Cisco, Brocade, Fortinet, Huawei, Facebook, Extreme Networks, Arista Networks, and Juniper Networks.

The two patents used in the lawsuits originated at the 3Com Corporation, which was bought by HP in 2010, along with about 1,400 patents. US Patent No. 6,205,149 is entitled "Quality of service control mechanism and apparatus," while US Patent No. 5,978,951 describes the use of a "high speed cache management unit" which replaces some software-based systems with hardware in order to reduce latency time.

The lawsuits begin by extolling 3Com's history as an "industry pioneer" and leader in computer networking dating back to its founding in 1979, when computer networking was "nearly non-existent."

The complaint against Cisco accuses the Catalyst 6500 Series Switches of infringing the '149 patent because of how they transmit Ethernet data. Cisco's Adaptive Security Apparatus family of security devices are said to infringe the '677 patent because they allow a secure connection between a user "and servers of a data access network system via a firewall and a router."

For Juniper, Plectrum wants royalties for use or sale of MX Series routers; for Facebook, it's the open-source-based Wedge 100 switches.

Some of the Plectrum lawsuits accuse defendants of having knowledge of the patents-in-suit because of the defendants' own patenting activity. For instance, Cisco mentioned the '951 patent in a disclosure for its own patent application. That leads Plectrum lawyers to argue that Cisco was "willfully blind of Plectrum's patent rights" and took actions that were "objectively reckless."