This past April we announced the revival of Project Jengo in response to a patent troll called Sable Networks that sued Cloudflare even though our technology and products are nothing like what’s described in Sable’s patents. This is only one part of Sable’s larger campaign against innovative technology companies — Sable sued five other technology companies earlier this year, and had sued seven other technology companies under the same patents last year.
Just as we have done in the past, we decided to fight back rather than feed the troll — which would only make it stronger. You see, unlike Cloudflare and other operating companies that were sued, Sable Networks isn’t in the business of providing products and services to the market. Rather, it exists to extract settlements out of productive companies that are creating value to the society.
Project Jengo is a prior art search contest where we ask the Cloudflare community for help in finding evidence (“prior art”) that shows Sable’s patents are invalid because they claim something that was already known at the time the patent application was filed. We committed $100,000 in cash prizes to be shared by the winners who were successful in finding such prior art.
The first chapter of this contest has now ended, and we received almost 400 prior art references on Sable’s ten patents. And over 80% of those references were submitted to kill off the four patents that Sable asserted against us. Let me first say thank you to everyone who submitted these! Here at Cloudflare, we are constantly energized and motivated by the support from our community, and we are heartened by our community’s participation in Project Jengo.
Three winners = $20,000 in total cash prizes (so far)
We reviewed every eligible submission and scored them based on the strength of the prior art reference(s), difficulty, the story provided by the entrant, and the clarity and thoroughness of the explanation. Today, we are announcing the selection of three great submissions as cash prize winners in this round. The first winner will receive \$10,000, and the other two will each receive \$5,000.
Keep ’em coming
As you’ll recall, Sable is using a set of patents from the early 2000’s related to a flow-based router called Apeiro, which was never widely adopted and eventually failed in the marketplace over a decade ago. Sable is now stretching those patents way beyond what they were meant to cover. Sable’s flawed reading of these patents extends infringement to basic routing and switching functionality known long before any alleged invention date, including “conventional routers” from the 2000s that routed each packet independently without any regard to flows. The way Sable is interpreting its patents so broadly and the fact that Sable has gone after numerous technology companies selling a wide range of different products worry us — by its current standard, Sable could target anyone using a router, and that would include anyone with a WiFi router in their home. You can help stop this madness by participating in this contest and finding prior art on any of Sable’s ten patents that we’ve identified — not just on the four patents that Sable asserted against us.
The contest is ongoing, and we still have $80,000 to give out. The sooner you send us quality prior-art references, the more helpful they will be in invalidating Sable’s patents, so please make your submissions here as soon as possible. Already made a submission, but you aren’t one of the three winners today? It isn’t over — we will consider your submission again when we announce our next round of winners in November (and you can, of course, also enter a new and better submission). We have many more rounds to go as long as Sable’s case is pending against us, which means earlier submissions benefit from being considered in multiple rounds of this contest, so please don’t delay and make your submission now.
If this were a boxing match, then we would still be in the first round, sparring in the ring, with Sable up against the ropes. So jump in, win some cash, and help us KO Sable Networks.
Matthew M. “can’t stand blockers to true American ingenuity” and now has $10,000
IETF RFC 2702 (Requirements for Traffic Engineering Over MPLS)
This document is one of the 17 prior-art references sent to us by Matthew M. We are highlighting the Internet Engineering Task Force (“IETF”) Request for Comments (“RFC”) 2702. An RFC is something like a step in an industry-wide brainstorming session where an idea or ideas are floated to others in the industry with the aim of building something great everyone can use. The RFC found by Matthew M. is a good example of the process in which engineers from MCI Worldcom are building on the work of engineers from companies like Cisco, IBM, Juniper, and Ascend. All of these companies were well aware of the concepts Sable is now trying to claim its patents cover, including “micro-flows,” label-switched paths, and the basic concept of choosing a path through the network based on QoS information in a packet. The IETF’s records of these industry-wide brainstorming sessions are great evidence of Sable’s overreaching interpretations of its patents.
As for the winner, Matthew has a degree in Computer Networking & Cybersecurity, and manages a small team of developers at a FinTech company. Like most Project Jengo participants, he wasn’t motivated solely by the money. He told us, “I quickly learned just how vague you can make a patent and it’s quite disgusting.” We agree! Matthew shared that he thinks patent trolls “provide no value to society and only exist to strip true business men and women of their hard-earned craft.” He underscored this point when we reached out to congratulate him on the $10,000 prize:
I can’t stand blockers to true American ingenuity and patent trolls stand to destroy hard-earned work using minuscule technicalities in our broken justice system. I am happy to do my part in helping Cloudflare get the upper hand in this lawsuit and hopefully flip it on its head and take down Sable Networks altogether.
Matthew also highlighted the tremendous damage that patent trolls can do to companies and innovation:
I think patent trolls are one of the biggest stiflers of innovation. Companies like Cloudflare could be spending all their time working on new products that provide value but instead, they must allocate resources to fight off cowardly lawsuits like this one.
This submission will be put to good use in our fight against Sable, and we were happy to award Matthew with his prize money. We smiled when Matthew exclaimed he was “speechless” after finding out that he won. Congratulations, Matthew!
Pedro S. enjoyed a trip down memory lane and now gets to enjoy $5,000
Ascend/Cascade products and software implementing IETF RFC 1953 (Ipsilon Flow Management Protocol Specification for IPv4)
This winning submission also included an RFC from the IETF. These records from the important work of the IETF members ensure Sable won’t be able to take credit for things it simply didn’t invent. The neat thing about RFC 1953 is that the submitter connected it with actual products from companies called Ipsilon Networks, Inc. and Ascend Communications. There appear to be similarities between those products and the technology Sable is now claiming to have made, like the inventions of the ’919 patent. The problem for Sable is that Ipsilon and Ascend appear to have done it first! Ipsilon and Ascend were acquired by other companies so finding details about their innovative products and technology may be difficult, but we’re going to try. It may be that the submitter or someone reading this post can help.
The submission came from Pedro S., who heard about Project Jengo on the Security Now podcast. Pedro has spent 20 years in various technical roles, including a position at Ascend Communications in the 1990’s where he became familiar with their products. Today he is working at a cybersecurity company in the Bay Area. When asked why he chose to participate, he bluntly responded with “I hate patent trolls — I also enjoyed the trip down memory lane as some of the stuff I submitted comes from my days at Lucent.” We are happy to hear he enjoyed participating in the fight! We’re enjoying it too, thanks to the participation of folks like Pedro.
Stephen “learned a LOT” and earned $5,000
United States Patent No. 7,107,356 (Translator for enabling logical partitioning of a network switch)
This submission pointed us to U.S. Patent No. 7,107,356 (“’356 patent”) for its relevance to Sable’s U.S. Patent No. 7,630,358 (Mechanism for implementing multiple logical routers within a single physical router). The ’358 patent hasn’t been asserted against Cloudflare (at least not yet), and this is a good example of the enthusiasm of our community to comprehensively search for prior art relevant to both Sable’s currently asserted patents and those it may use to sue other companies later down the road. The ’356 patent found by our final winner in this round of Project Jengo carefully describes the guts of a router, and this relatively straight-forward patent makes short work of Sable’s overreaching claims of invention. Rest assured, if Sable is looking to assert the ’358 patent against Cloudflare or some other company down the road, our community is well-prepared to meet the challenge.
The submission comes from Stephen F., a web developer at a managed IT company working on custom websites. When his IT coworker shared the Project Jengo announcement in the office chat, he decided to participate. Stephen has never done prior art search before, but he was eager to participate and spent an entire day looking for prior art:
I'm submitting because I love Cloudflare and how it has made my life easier as a web developer … I've had to learn a lot more about routing and patent law today, and spent several hours looking at documents, scholarly journals, etc.
Even though this was his first time researching something like this, he understood the importance of beating Sable Networks:
I stand firmly against patent trolls like Sable, and decided to spend my day looking into prior art for the sake of Cloudflare's continued success.
Not only did Stephen understand the importance of beating Sable, he also understood the challenges in doing a prior art search, but that didn’t stop him! We admire his tenacity and are impressed with his efforts, and some of the challenges he had to overcome during his search:
I needed to find where the patents could have been stolen/read from each other and what the offending points of the patents would be. During my research I learned a LOT about patent law, which was pretty challenging!
All the references we’ve received are now available
We received almost 400 prior art references thus far, and as promised we are making them public. As a reminder, we are collecting prior art on any of the patents owned by Sable, not just the ones asserted against Cloudflare. You can go to the webpage we’ve set up to see them, and we hope this information is of use to anyone who is sued by Sable down the road.
The fight continues
Project Jengo continues to capture the attention of tech media. It’s important to us to keep the narrative alive — the more awareness we can spread about the true harm of patent trolls, the more likely we are to inspire other well-resourced companies to refuse to capitulate. If we do this together, we’re far more likely to set a new standard, and ultimately, find the antidote to the ever-growing number of patent trolls that plague productive companies. If we enter the battle alone we are strong, but if we fight together we are unstoppable! Here’s what we’ve seen since our initial blog post was published (news outlets appear to be just as enthusiastic as we are!):
- “Cloudflare offers $100,000 for prior art to nuke networking patents a troll has accused it of ripping off,” – The Register
- “Instead of just saying it wouldn't settle, Cloudflare set out to completely destroy the patent troll who sued it, ” – Techdirt
- “The idea is to deal a big enough blow to Sable that not only is its case against Cloudflare hobbled but also future cases against other entities.” – Techcrunch
Litigation update — where are we five months in?
It has been five months since Sable Networks sued us in Waco, Texas, and we want to share a quick update on the litigation front. Since then, we have filed four petitions with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for inter partes review (“IPR”), seeking to invalidate the four asserted patents. As we previously explained, IPR is a procedure for challenging the validity of a patent before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and it is supposed to be faster and cheaper than litigating before a U.S. district court. Of course, faster and cheaper are relative — it still takes about 18 months to invalidate a patent using this procedure, and the filing fees alone for the four petitions were over $200,000. It is easy to see how the exorbitant cost involved in patent litigation allows patent trolls to flourish and why so many companies are willing to quickly settle.
Aside from the IPRs, our litigation is moving forward in district court. Sable served us with its preliminary infringement contentions, which are supposed to explain why it believes we infringe its four asserted patents, and we will be serving our preliminary invalidity contentions to Sable soon.
Sable went after six companies earlier this year, and three of them have already settled and dropped out of the fight. We will continue to fight against Sable, and we hope to see our peers continue fighting against this patent troll with us. Please stay tuned for our next update in three months!