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NetApp Hits Sun With Patent Infringement Lawsuit 217

jcatcw writes "Computerworld reports, "Network Appliance Inc. today announced that it has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Sun Microsystems Inc. seeking unspecified compensatory damages and an injunction that would prohibit Sun from developing or distributing products based on its ZFS file system technology. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Lufkin, Texas, charges that the Sun ZFS technology infringes on seven NetApp patents pertaining to data processing systems and related software.""
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NetApp Hits Sun With Patent Infringement Lawsuit

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  • A better article... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @09:25PM (#20488825)
    ...appears on The Register. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/09/05/netapp_sue s_sun_over_zfs/ [theregister.co.uk]

    This actually mentions the specific technologies NetApp is alleging are infringed, and contains a link to the actual complaint, which lists the details of NetApp's allegations.

    Cursory reading suggests these are somewhat reasonable patents--they solve non-obvious critical issues in terms of having data synchronized across multiple images. We're not talking about "One-Click Ordering" here.

    That said, they filed in East Texas, which is a notorious district for patent trolling, which doesn't help them appear on the side of the angels IMO.
  • by cduffy ( 652 ) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @09:27PM (#20488835)
    You don't lose patents (or copyrights) for failure to enforce them -- that's trademarks you're thinking of there (and trade secrets, but in a different way).

    See, this is one of the things that's annoying about the term "intellectual property" -- it leads to people getting confused about what's what. Patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets are all very different things, and have very different rules that apply.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @09:50PM (#20488985)
    The founder of NetApp has a weblog posting [netapp.com] on this:

    This morning, NetApp filed an IP (intellectual property) lawsuit against Sun. It has two parts. The first is a "declaratory judgment", asking the court to decide whether we infringe a set of patents that Sun claims we do. The second says that Sun infringes several of our patents with its ZFS technology.

    How did we get here?
  • by MikePlacid ( 512819 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @10:01PM (#20489075)
    Here is the original complaint (PDF): http://www.netapp.com/go/ipsuit/spider-complaint.p df [netapp.com] .
    And here is NetApp's boss blog: http://blogs.netapp.com/dave/ [netapp.com] (quoted below):

    This morning, NetApp filed an IP (intellectual property) lawsuit against Sun. It has two parts. The first is a "declaratory judgment", asking the court to decide whether we infringe a set of patents that Sun claims we do. The second says that Sun infringes several of our patents with its ZFS technology.

    How did we get here?

    Like many large technology companies, Sun has been using its patent portfolio as a profit center. About 18 months ago, Sun's lawyers contacted NetApp with a list of patents they say we infringe, and requested that we pay them lots of money. We responded in two ways. First, we closely examined their list of patents. Second, we identified the patents in our portfolio that we believe Sun infringes.

    With respect to Sun's patent claims, our lawsuit explains that we do not infringe, and - in fact - that they are not even valid. As a result, we don't think we should be paying Sun millions of dollars.

    On the flip side, our suit points out that Sun's ZFS appears to infringe several of NetApp's WAFL patents. It looks like ZFS was a conscious reimplementation of our WAFL filesystem, with little regard to intellectual property rights. Here's what creators of ZFS have to say: "The file system that has come closest to our design principles, other than ZFS itself, is WAFL ... the first commercial file system to use the copy-on-write tree of blocks approach to file system consistency." One of the first patents I filed at NetApp describes this "copy-on-write tree of blocks" technique in detail.

    We filed suit against Sun because after we pointed out the WAFL patents, their lawyers stopped getting back to us. The first part of our suit is a declaratory judgment. It's complicated, but the basic idea is that Sun claims we infringe their patents, so we are requesting a trial to show that's not true. In essence, a declaratory judgment calls their bluff. It allows us to force a legal conclusion, rather than leaving this threat hanging over our heads. The second part is a complaint against Sun for infringing several WAFL patents with ZFS.

  • by MikePlacid ( 512819 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @10:16PM (#20489189)
    Again, from NetApp's boss blog: http://blogs.netapp.com/dave/2007/06/how_the_paten t_.html [netapp.com] (I really like this guy, having read 2 articles):

    Don't patents ever protect your good ideas?! In theory, they should, but in practice it doesn't usually work that way. Suppose your small company wants to protect its ideas against a big company. Filing suit will accelerate the cross-licensing negotiation, and you'll probably end up paying. Better to let sleeping dogs lie. Patent battles between small companies work poorly because they are so expensive and take so long. Better to fight it out in the marketplace. Big companies suing small companies have a harder time than you'd imagine, because the courts recognize that an incorrect decision, especially against a startup, can cause irreversible damage. Courts are reluctant to impose injunctions, even if the patents really do apply. In the case of two big companies, both almost always violate each other's patents, so they end up cross licensing. (I'm not saying that patents never help to protect good ideas. If someone steals your patented idea, it's perfectly reasonable to go after them. I'm just saying that it seldom works out as well as you might hope.)

    I know that some people are so frustrated with the patent system that they want nothing to do with it. The problem is, there's no good way to opt-out.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @10:39PM (#20489355)
    "That's what everybody says.... until they try to use it to serve anything over Samba or NFS. Just google zfs nfs for some horror stories. Bottom line is, ZFS is not ready for real world adoption."

    I disagree.

    I have a multi-terabyte raidz in production, sharing out via Samba and NFS, and the only hassle I have had is with Samba's current lack of support for ZFS ACLs. Not being able to mangle permissions with Explorer is a small price to pay for my automatic rolling snapshots (do you like going to tape for a deleted file?), and cloning ability to test a script on the "real thing".

    Samba clients are a few Citrix servers ranging from 20 to 40 concurrent users each with the vast majority of their data coming from said server, and about 30 to 40 individual workstations.

    NFS clients are Solaris and Linux, with about a dozen machines pulling /home/*. Notably, I also have one Linux server running VMware, with one VM's vmdks coming from the Solaris NFS server over a 1Gb link. The VM is fairly lightweight, but it does run well.

    I will admit to being somewhat leery when first migrating to ZFS from my previous solution, but have been using it in production as stated above since about January 2007 and have had no headaches.
  • by Vancorps ( 746090 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @11:23PM (#20489701)

    We recently began a deployment of a couple of NetApp filers, the 2040 and 3040 ranges. They are mighty great to work with from my experience so far. The software is very easy to use and understand and NetApp support has been stellar thus far. They move a lost faster than EMC from the looks although EMC's storage offerings are mighty impressive as well.

    Storage is a rough business but the SAN I'm deploying this year paves the way for virtualized servers next year which I'm excited about. With VMWare's ACE I'm not even sure Tripwire is needed anymore.

    Also it seems as though NetApp was rather nice about this whole patent thing from the get go. It wasn't until Sun threatened them that they acted and again acted fairly preferring a cross licensing deal rather than any cash payout in either direction.

    Sun support in my experience has been a pain in the ass. I remember trying to modify the startup resolution on a box since I didn't have a Sun monitor or keyboard. They would not help me over the phone since it was a none Sun keyboard even though they had no problem with a non-Sun monitor. I did a key mash to figure out the stop key on boot to get me in. That was the last time I played with anything from Sun. That was about 4 years ago. Mileage may vary but I've not heard anything positive more recently. I am a fan of ZFS though, I wish it weren't mired in this crap but Sun started the fight and attacked a gorilla. The reaction had to be expected.

  • Re:Apparently (Score:4, Informative)

    by Vancorps ( 746090 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @11:44PM (#20489873)

    Except that you are clearly ignorant about NetApp snapshots. They are very different from snapshots from other providers. I recently evaluated SANs from HP, EMC, and NetApp. NetApp was the most original and offered a lot of unique features including their snapshot technology. It's very non-obvious their implementation of it.

    Here's a link to educate(PDF) [cosentry.com]

    And another Bunch of white papers [zdnet.co.uk] explaining why Oracle went with NetApp storage. There is a similar list for GoDaddy

    NetApp is not SCO, they are only acting because Sun threatened them. They are most innovative big company I've seen in recent years. Their WAFL implementation is pretty damned impressive especially when combined with Flexclone and their other Snapshot products.

  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Thursday September 06, 2007 @02:27AM (#20491031)

    And here is NetApp's boss blog

    Dave's one of the founders, but he's not the CEO or president, he's an executive vice president, as per the NetApp executive biographies page [netapp.com].

  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Thursday September 06, 2007 @03:04AM (#20491219)

    Someone has the patent on the concept of managing 'something' with 'something'? In this case files with a filesystem?

    No. Go read NetApp's complaint [netapp.com], which enumerates the patents Sun claims NetApp is infringing and NetApp claims Sun is infringing, then look up the patents at the US Patent and Trademark Office patent search-by-number page [uspto.gov].

  • by SnowZero ( 92219 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @04:59AM (#20491837)
    Anyone who has studied filesystems in depth knows about NetApp's WAFL, that NetApp has defended its patents, and that ZFS uses a lot of ideas from WAFL. Questions about ZFS violating WAFL patents came up on LKML months ago [lkml.org], and probably earlier elsewhere. People have been wondering why Linux doesn't have anything like ZFS, and a large part of the answer to that is patents; The Tux2 filesystem would have been a lot like ZFS but was stopped due to patent grumblings. I wish Sun luck in overturning the patents, since that would help everyone, but this lawsuit should not come at a surprise to anyone.
  • by pedantic bore ( 740196 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @05:57AM (#20492131)

    According to the filing, this dispute originated with a claim by StorageTek, which was later bought by Sun (and Sun decided to continue to claim). Tracing the timeline, it's clear that Sun was trying to squeeze money out of NetApp before ZFS ever shipped.

    It's also alledged, in the filing, that NetApp is more concerned about the fact that Sun is giving away ZFS and its snapshot IP, which NetApp claims are its own. NetApp was OK with letting ZFS use this technology, but not with Sun giving it away to everyone else via OpenSolaris.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling