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Sun, NetApp heading for judgement day

Network Appliance Inc. today announced that it has filed a lawsuit against Sun Microsystems Inc. seeking damages and an injunction against Sun to prevent further distribution of Sun’s file system technology. 

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court, Lufkin, Texas, alleges that Sun violated seven NetApp patents primarily related to its ZFS technology.  In addition, NetApp is asking the court to declare that it has not infringed on three of Sun’s patents.   

In a conference call today, NetApp officials said the intellectual property spat began 18 months ago when Sun presented to NetApp a set of patents that they claimed NetApp infringed upon and requested a cross license agreement as well as “a lot of money,” David Hitz, NetApp’s founder and executive vice president explained. 

“That demand caused us to examine carefully whether we were infringing their [intellectual property] rights and also whether they might be infringing ours,” said Dan Warmenhoven, NetApps chief executive officer.  

In a blog that further sheds light on NetApp’s counter attack, Hitz said Sun’s ZFS “was a conscious reimplementation of our Write Anywhere File Layout (WAFL) file system with little regard to intellectual property rights.” 

In the meantime, the ZFS file system was donated to the open source community in April and is a key element of Sun’s OpenSolaris storage strategy.  According to NetApp executives it’s difficult to delete patented technology like a file system that has already been released to the open source community.  The best court decision, they say, is to stop Sun from developing ZFS altogether.   

“What we are interested in is getting Sun to stop developing [ZFS] and stop releasing it as a commercial product,” Hitz added.     

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