RSA sues Novell for patent violation

RSA Data Security Inc. has filed suit against Novell Inc., charging in federal court that the networking giant illegally resold RSA's patented encryption technology.

The Californian, subsidiary of Security Dynamics Technologies Inc. is best known for its namesake public key algorithm, which is used in the encryption mechanisms of most browsers and is considered a key to digital certificate technology.

RSA officials would not comment on the suit, other than to confirm that it was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The company charges that Novell, a licensee of RSA's BSafe cryptography tool kit, inappropriately sold that encryption technology, in turn, to BEA Systems Inc. for $86m (£52.4m). RSA asked for damages and that the re-licensing be stopped.

RSA, over the past several years, has aggressively defended its patented public key technology, which was developed in 1983 by company founder Ron Rivest while he was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Most recently, RSA settled a long-standing lawsuit with Network Associates Inc., which inherited the imbroglio on two fronts when it bought encryption maker Pretty Good Privacy Inc. and firewall maker Trusted Information Systems Inc.

But in the last year, RSA CEO Jim Bidzos has made it clear that he wants to move the company "upstream" from encryption patent fights and into the tool kit market, leading the company to release a series of kits designed for specific security functions in electronic-commerce systems. A main motivation for that move: The patent on the RSA algorithm expires next year.

Novell officials in Provo, Utah, said they had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment.