Akamai, Limelight decide to drop fight over ancient tech

In a patent spat lasting since 2006, content delivery network providers Akamai and Limelight Networks have broken bread. Ten years on, we must consider the exorbitant volumes of video traffic now traveling over the two respective webs of servers, and also account for the fact one previously contested patent was filed by Akamai in 1999 – bringing us to a possible conclusion in which the technologies are now legacy in an internet era world’s away from the one in which the infringement case began.

Terms of the settlement are confidential although the two companies have agreed to license “certain patents” to one another – settling all outstanding legal disputes.

Such a sensitive topic as CDNs, relied on by operators and streaming companies globally, spanning hundreds of millions of users on a daily basis, means few crumbs of technological detail have leaked out into the public eye. However, at a time when CDN prices are tumbling, we suggest this played a decisive factor in the settlement, and Akamai being the larger of the two – as well as its wins against Limelight in previous cases – suggests the patent licensing deal swayed slightly in Akamai’s favor.

Patenting a technology as expansive as a CDN, software components in particular, is something we have fundamentally disagreed with throughout this long-running case between two CDN majors. If anything, CDN customers will hope the settlement will sow the seed for further patent sharing agreements relating to CDN technologies – helping to improve the video delivery ecosystem as a whole, rather than keep it in separate proprietary islands.

Sifting back through case updates over the years brings us to a fundamental point in mid-2015, when Akamai won a unanimous US Court of Appeals decision ruling Limelight liable for direct patent infringement – awarding Akamai $45 million in damages.

Specifically, it concerned Limelight’s customers infringing on an Akamai patent and whether Limelight was liable for the likes of Google and Cisco, which sided with Limelight. Perhaps these tech titans asserted an element of influence over this week’s patent-sharing settlement, with vested interests at heart.

The patent in question in the 2015 case is Akamai’s US 6,108,703, filed in 1999 and published in 2000, which defines a global hosting system supporting content distribution on a global system. In other words, a CDN. It seems strange that Akamai managed to patent such a wide sweeping concept, as it certainly was not the first company to distribute content in this way.

“The framework comprises a set of servers operating in a distributed manner. The actual content to be served is preferably supported on a set of hosting servers. The content comprises HTML page objects that are served from a Content Provider site, while one or more embedded objects for the page are served from the hosting servers near the client machine. By serving the HTML document from the Content Provider’s site, the Content Provider maintains control over the content,” was the gist of the 2015 case.

The two trials dismissed this week were due to take place on April 2 in the Eastern District of Virginia and the District of Massachusetts. Less than two weeks ago, Limelight presented evidence at a Virginia hearing against Akamai and US fiber provider XO Communications, in an attempt to prove that Akamai’s system uses the default values of its ‘155 patent (involving techniques for modifying the performance of a transport layer protocol in response to a content request) over the same connection. But the court concluded Akamai retained non-modified values as defaults to influence memory over new connections and therefore was not infringing the ‘155 patent’s claim, in which teaching a method that uses the non-modified values to influence memory and processing capabilities of the first connection.

The Massachusetts case, filed in April 2017 in which Limelight was the defendant, related only to “highly confidential source code.”

It’s interesting to compare the two product lines side by side, courtesy of CDN Planet. It reports a key missing piece of the Limelight puzzle being Image Optimization, which Akamai boasts. However, Limelight offers a Private CDN, unlike Akamai, and also an instant set up feature, whereas Akamai requires customers to talk to its sales team directly. Akamai is a far more secretive beast in terms of releasing details on features, pricing and total number of networks by region, to non-prospective customers – a trait reflected in its patent case with Limelight.

Limelight’s infrastructure spans 80 points of presence worldwide, with some 10,000 servers with over 25Gbps of egress capacity, while Akamai has an army of around 220,000 servers.

Limelight CEO Bob Lento commented, “We are pleased to finally have these disputes behind us. We remain focused on our top strategic priorities, including customer satisfaction, employee growth and retention, and delivering superior returns to our shareholders.”