Two weeks before its patents on the public/private key encryption algorithm at the center of Web security were due to expire, RSA officially put all its claims on the technology into the public domain. Moreover, the company released, at no cost, a set of developer tools formerly priced between $10,000 and $20,000.
The surprise move ended speculation that the company, formerly aggressive in its enforcement of the patents it obtained from MIT, might use several unexpired and possibly applicable patents to prevent others from using the encryption technology. Analysts say the end of RSA’s control of public/private key encryption will accelerate e-commerce and other Web applications. Phil Zimmerman, who pried a not-for-profit application of the algorithm from MIT for use in his PGP, said, “Over the past two decades the RSA patent and other public key patents did more to suppress the deployment of public key cryptography than the NSA.”