Two History-making Israelis Suing New York-based Verint Systems in Patent Case

Elad Barkan and Eli Biham were the first to show that calls made on secured GSM cellphone networks could be eavesdropped on

File photo: A pedestrian uses a mobile phone.
Nicky Loh/Bloomberg

Two Israeli researchers are mired in a litigation with Verint Systems, alleging that the New York-based company infringed on their patents. In 2003 the two researchers, Elad Barkan and Prof. Eli Biham, were the first to show that calls made on secured GSM cellular telephone networks could be eavesdropped on.

If successful, their claim might bring them tens of millions of dollars.

In 2003, Barkan was a doctoral student at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. His adviser, Prof. Eli Biham, became the first person in the world, despite many previous attempts by others, to break into a GSM cellular network. The two developed a way to intercept calls and eavesdrop on them.

In their lawsuit, filed by Barkan’s company KeySee Software, the scientists seek the disclosure of documents and data that will help them understand the scope of Verint’s sales and profits. KeySee Software sells encryption and deciphering technology, under the oversight of Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Verint did not provide a response for this article.

Barkan, 42, is currently doing post-doctoral work at the Weizmann Institute of Science on big data for use in biology and medicine. Although the patent is owned by Barkan, Biham, who is now 57 and a computer science professor at the Technion, also has rights to it. Biham is a world-renowned expert in encryption and information security and the head of the Technion’s cybersecurity center.

The legal proceedings began four years ago when Barkan sued Verint in the United States. Settlement negotiations ensued and the suit was withdrawn. But Verint then sought to have the patent invalidated, which prompted a new suit against it, this time in Israel.

Proceedings were put on hold as Israel’s Central District Court awaited a decision on the matter by the Israel Patent Office. About a week and a half ago, the deputy registrar of the patent office, Jacqueline Bracha, rejected the court’s request, returning the task of deciding the case to the court.

The researchers’ initial connection with Verint began in 2003 after they registered patents in Israel, Europe and the United States. But it was only in 2008 that Verint began using Barkan and Biham’s technology.

A year later, Verint stopped buying the two Israeli researchers’ technology from KeySee Software. The lawsuit alleges, however, that Verint continued to create and sell products using the technology in violation of the patent.

GSM cellular networks run on relatively old technology, but it is still relevant because cellular service providers are still using those networks. The eavesdropping products in question are part of Verint’s defense division, which includes cybersecurity and video analysis.