Symantec told to warn off distributors

Symantec has been ordered to issue a 'Notice of Recall' to distributors of Norton Uninstall Deluxe, advising that distributing the product 'may expose them to liability as a contributory infringer' in a copyright action brought by its rival CyberMedia. A US court has deemed it 'likely' that CyberMedia will prove the product contains code from its own Uninstaller product, and granted an injunction against Symantec. Symantec says very few copies of the software containing the disputed code remain in distributors' hands

A US court has granted CyberMedia's request for an injunction against a version of a utility software product from rival vendor Symantec that CyberMedia claims infringes on its patents.

The USFederal Court in San Jose, California, ordered Symantec to stop shipping a version of Norton Uninstall Deluxe -- along with any related suites or bundles -- which contain code that CyberMedia alleges infringes on the copyright of its Uninstaller product, CyberMedia says.

The US court deems it "likely" that CyberMedia will ultimately succeed in proving its allegations that Symantec has infringed on its copyright, according to a statement from CyberMedia.

Under the court order, Symantec must issue a "Notice of Recall" to distributors of Norton Uninstall Deluxe, advising that distributing the product "may expose them to liability as a contributory infringer," the CyberMedia statement said. Symantec must also stop manufacturing, selling, distributing, and advertising the specified version of Norton Uninstall Deluxe, along with any bundles or suites that contain the code.

Commenting on the court ruling, Kanwal Rekhi, CyberMedia's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement, "We feel vindicated by the ruling and will be seeking a significant damages recovery at trial."

Symantec officials today sought to play down the significance of the ruling. The order does not require Symantec to pull its products from retail shelves, and applies only to versions of Uninstall Deluxe that contain the disputed code, said Enrique Salem, vice president of Symantec's Security and Assistance unit.

After Cybermedia filed its lawsuit in February, Symantec developed and has been shipping a "clean room" version of the utility software that does not contain the disputed code, Salem said.

"We asked a third-party company to rewrite the code in question," he said.

For legal reasons, the company will not say how long ago it began shipping that version, but Salem said very few copies of the software containing the disputed code remain in distributors' hands. The company will comply with the court's order that it notify distributors of their potential for liability, Salem said.

The decision to rewrite the disputed code is not an admission of guilt, he said.

"To remove any doubt and because the code in question is so minimal, we have replaced the code because we think it is the right thing to do," Salem said.

In addition, Symantec has voluntarily decided to contact all registered users of Norton Uninstall Deluxe and advise them to upgrade their software to the clean room version of Uninstall Deluxe using a download feature in their software, Salem said.

Symantec also repeated its assertion that it did not develop the software itself. The company licenses Uninstall from Zebrasoft, in Atlanta, Georgia, which was named in the original suit. Symantec is confident that Zebrasoft did not infringe on Cybermedia's code to build the product, Salem said.

Zebrasoft could not immediately be reached for comment.

Uninstall Deluxe is a component of Norton SystemWorks, a cost-saving suite of utility tools released by Symantec last week. That suite contains the clean room version of Uninstall Deluxe and will not be affected by the court's ruling, Salem said.

The legal battle between CyberMedia and Symantec began back in February of this year when CyberMedia filed suit against Symantec alleging copyright infringement and theft of trade secrets.

Complicating matters is the fact that Symantec's main rival in the antivirus software market, Network Associates, is currently in the process of acquiring CyberMedia. At the end of July this year, Network Associates Inc. announced that it plans to buy CyberMedia for around US$130 million.

Symantec and Network Associates have been at legal loggerheads since April 1997, when Symantec sued McAfee Associates Inc. over alleged copyright infringement. Then in August of last year, McAfee countered by filing a $1 billion defamation and trade libel suit against Symantec. Network Associates came into being in October of last year, following the merger of McAfee Associates with Network General.

CyberMedia, based in Santa Monica, California, can be reached via the Internet at http://www.cybermedia.com/. Symantec, based in Cupertino, California, can be reached via the Internet at http://www.symantec.com/. Network Associates, in Santa Clara, California, can be reached via the Internet at http://www.nai.com/.

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