NetApp Sues Sun

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Network Appliance has sued Sun Microsystems, claiming Sun’s ZFS file system technology infringes on seven NetApp patents.

In the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Texas, NetApp is also seeking a declaration that it is not infringing on three of Sun’s U.S. patents and that those patents are invalid.

The dispute affects NetApp’s WAFL file system and RAID technologies.

NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven and co-founder Dave Hitz discussed the suit on a conference call today, stressing that they are “not interested in going after ZFS users.” In a blog, Hitz called Sun’s ZFS file system “a conscious reimplementation of our WAFL filesystem, with little regard to intellectual property rights.”

NetApp said in a press release that it is filing the suit “in the wake of prolonged and aggressive claims” by Sun. Sun inherited the dispute when it acquired StorageTek two years ago.

“Sun’s aggressive demand that we license some of their IP caused us to examine carefully whether we were infringing their IP rights and whether they might be infringing ours,” NetApp said. As a result of that review, NetApp said it “believes Sun unfairly distributes ZFS technology to third parties to induce the adoption and distribution of the infringing technology in their products without informing them of applicable NetApp patents.”

NetApp said it made “major efforts” to resolve the issues, but Sun “shifted from an aggressive position to not being responsive, leaving important issues unresolved. To remove any doubts, NetApp has turned to the courts.”

In a statement late today, Sun responded that NetApp’s lawsuit “is a clear indication that NetApp considers Sun technology a threat, and is a direct attack on the open source community. … Many of the claims raised in the lawsuit are factually untrue. For example, it was NetApp who first approached Sun seeking to acquire the Sun patents NetApp is now attempting to invalidate. It is unfortunate that NetApp has now resorted to resolving its business issues in a legal jurisdiction (East Texas) long favored by ‘patent trolls.’

“Bottom line, Sun indemnifies its customers, and stands behind the innovations we deliver to the marketplace.”

For infringement of its patents, NetApp is seeking compensatory damages and a permanent injunction against Sun to prevent further distribution of the NetApp patented technology in current or future versions of Sun’s data processing systems and related software, including ZFS technology.

The lawsuit wasn’t the only news NetApp made today. Gartner reported that Dell vaulted past both NetApp and HDS into fourth place in second quarter external controller-based disk storage sales. The top three were EMC, IBM and HP, followed by Dell, HDS, NetApp and Sun.

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Paul Shread
Paul Shread
eSecurity Editor Paul Shread has covered nearly every aspect of enterprise technology in his 20+ years in IT journalism, including an award-winning series on software-defined data centers. He wrote a column on small business technology for, and covered financial markets for 10 years, from the dot-com boom and bust to the 2007-2009 financial crisis. He holds a market analyst certification.
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