Upcoming firmware update to force VPN behavior changes over VirnetX patent loss

iOS 6.1 VPN On Demand changes

VirnetX, a patent holding firm with an impressive intellectual property portfolio, in November 2011 sued Apple over a breach of a collection of its network patents, originally seeking north of $900 million in damages. A year later, in November 2012, a federal jury in a Texas court ordered the iPhone maker to pay $368.2 million in damages.

The two parties later worked out a royalty agreement that should be decided upon on April 12, but as a result of the damages awarded to VirnetX, Apple today has acknowledged via a support document that it “will be changing the behavior of VPN On Demand for iOS devices using iOS 6.1 and later”

The document reads:

Devices using iOS 6.1 and later with VPN On Demand configured to “Always” will behave as if they were configured with the “Establish if needed” option.

The device will establish a VPN On Demand connection only if it is unable to resolve the DNS name of the host it is trying to reach. This change will be distributed in an update later this month.

The article describes potential behaviors in cases when the name of a host can be resolved without a VPN connection.

To establish your VPN connection, just turn on VPN manually in Settings > General > VPN. Apple promised to “address this functionality with alternatives in a future software update.”

The wording hints Apple may have found a workaround solution bypassing VirnetX patents.

People using the “Always” option for VPN On Demand can see how this change will work before it takes effect by creating a new VPN configuration that uses the “Establish if needed” option for the same set of domains, the knowledge base article reads.

A corporate iOS user explained to 9to5Mac:

This effectively means that the iOS user will, like on a PC, have to start the VPN client before the run an app, or before they open mobile Safari to access an intranet site.”

The changes mean that Apple will disable the iOS feature that allows corporate users to automatically make a VPN connection upon hitting a corporate address or site.

VirnetX is what you’d call a typical patent troll.

The Zephyr Cove, Nevada-based company used the patent plaintiff-friendly Eastern District court in Tyler to file its complaint against Apple. VirnetX has similar cases pending against Cisco and Avaya and it successfully won $105.75 million from Microsoft back in 2010.