Cisco Systems

A small inventor-owned software company backed by a powerful law firm is taking on Cisco Systems Inc. over alleged patent infringement.

Los Gatos, California-based NetFuel Inc. sued Cisco on April 13, charging that numerous Cisco routers and switches infringe two of its patents on automating the management of networking systems.

NetFuel is a venture-funded company that’s been around for 20 years. “My patents put AI algorithms into a network of computers before it was cool to do so,” co-founder and inventor James Harlow boasts on his LinkedIn page.

He and NetFuel have enlisted Susman Godfrey for the Cisco lawsuit. The complaint, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and signed by partner Kalpana Srinivasan, describes the patents as “revolutionary.” It says they’ve been cited more than 100 times in subsequent patents assigned to the likes of Symantec, Juniper Networks and Palo Alto Networks.

NetFuel hasn’t asserted its patents very often, apparently preferring to partner with companies like IBM. A search of RPX Corp.’s database reveals only a 2013 suit against F5 Networks, which appears to have settled following claim construction.

The inventions include software agents that operate in a runtime environment, thereby “reducing the amount of human input and expense required to manually troubleshoot, monitor, administer and/or oversee computer networks,” according to the complaint.

NetFuel v. Cisco alleges that Cisco has known about the patents since 2003, when Harlow met with Dave Ward, now Cisco’s chief technology officer of engineering. Senior personnel from Cisco met with Harlow on the ranch of former Cisco board member Bob Puette “and spoke with him about potential ways to license, fund, or otherwise work with NetFuel’s technology,” the complaint alleges.

Joining Srinivasan on the complaint are Susman partners Floyd Short and Matthew Barry and associate Steven Seigel.