An International Trade Commission (ITC) judge has ruled in favour of Trend Micro in its unfair import complaint against competitor Fortinet.

If the full commission adopts the judge's recommendation, Fortinet would be barred from importing its FortiGate anti-virus firewall appliance products into the US. Trend Micro's complaint stemmed from a patent infringement lawsuit the company filed in May 2004, alleging that Fortinet's FortiGate products violate Trend Micro's 1997 anti-virus patent.

The judge's ruling recommends that the full commission force Fortinet to stop infringing Trend Micro's patent. The patent itself covers technology to scan e-mail and Internet data transfers for viruses at gateways and servers, before the data arrives at a desktop computer.

The civil lawsuit has been on hold pending action from the ITC, said Carolyn Bostick, Trend Micro's lawyer. Trend Micro is committed to protecting its "spirit of innovation", and the judge's ruling helps the company achieve that goal, she said.

Fortinet disputed the decision and said it plans to "vigorously" defend its intellectual property. The ruling will have no impact on Fortinet partners and customers, the company said. Fortinet claims it has been using its own technology to develop products.

Fortinet, founded in 2000, announced the FortiGate product line in May 2002. The company offers other security-related products, including its FortiGuard subscription Web-filtering service.

The full ITC has 45 days from Monday to consider the judge's ruling. If it fails to act, the judge's ruling goes into effect. The commission can also reject the judge's ruling and issue its own ruling.

Trend Micro has sued other competitors alleging infringement of the same patent. In 1997, it sued Symantec and Network Associates. It later settled with both companies.