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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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  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd,bandrowsky&gmail,com> on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @09:12PM (#20488683) Homepage Journal
    How does the patent in this case "promote the useful arts and sciences." Patents don't do anything to benefit the public. Patents were fine in an era before the need for capital became its own barrier to entry in a given market, but, any more, they are not only a relic, but a dangerous, anti-competitive one. Would it be a troll to say anyone who is in favor of patents is really in favor of oligarchy?
  • by corychristison ( 951993 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @09:18PM (#20488761)

    At least Linux won't be impacted.
    That is not entirely true. ZFS is available via FUSE [sourceforge.net]. Some users do use it for some things. I really makes backup, etc. very easy. I, personally, haven't had a chance to try it out or anything, but I really would like to.

    It would be a damn shame if development on it were halted because of silly patents. :-)
  • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @09:19PM (#20488769)
    any more than complaining about gravity will make it go away. We have a broken patent system which is driven by the practitioners of the patent system for the benefit of those practitioners. In other words, those who have the power to change the system are the most likely to lose from any changes so there is very little motiovation to make any changes. We could go on about how bad the system is, but that is irrelevant in the courts. That a law is stupid is unfortunately not a valid defence.

    The only thing that matters here is whether prior art can be forund for WAFL.

  • by KonoWatakushi ( 910213 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @09:37PM (#20488915)

    Dave Hitz, NetApps's founder and executive vice president, said the lawsuit was filed largely because Sun 18 months ago "aggressively demanded" cross-licensing fees related to the Write Anywhere File Layout (WAFL) file-system technology included in ZFS. Hitz said the cross-licensing talks were halted in April after Sun claimed that NetApp's use of WAFL infringed on Sun patents.
    Demanded cross-licensing fees? What does that even mean? Licensing fees perhaps, but it seems like Sun was after a cross-licensing agreement; not seeking to drag NetApp into court like some patent troll.

    It sounds more like both Sun and NetApp are infringing on each others patents, and Sun simply wanted to formally resolve this in order to be on the safe side. This article seems awfully one-sided though, and the way the quote is paraphrased, it looks like the author is more interested in dragging Sun's name through the mud than presenting the facts.
  • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @09:38PM (#20488919) Homepage Journal
    I don't blame them, really. If you are a professionnal blogger (read former print journalist) the more traffic you can generate for your site, the more you make. Get it posted on /. or digg or wherever and watch the traffic flow.
  • by vic-traill ( 1038742 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @10:36PM (#20489333)

    Normally, I would jump on the editor(s) more than the submitter. If a submitter's is *less* interested in getting stories of interest to the community posted and more interested in pulling traffic to their site, then it is the editor's job to recognise this over time and take it into account in their decision. IMHO, anyway.

    But in this case, Carpenter has decided to preach about the submission system. She has a conflict on interest in this regard - she wants fewer people to have a say in whether her story is accepted yet doesn't declare her posting motivations. So fsck her - she's not being straight up in about her own motives when she questions those of others. She says:

    All it takes to vote is a user account with a valid email. How many of the new account holders are part of viral marketing scams? There are probably people there now who are being paid for submissions or for votes.

    Yeah, probably there are people being paid Joyce. Ya figure? How 'bout a statement on *your* motivations?

    Her full comment is at the URL below. Be aware that you're generating ad revenue going there ...

    http://www.computerworld.com/blogs/node/5550 [computerworld.com]
  • Re:Apparently (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tokki ( 604363 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @10:55PM (#20489497)
    To be fair, Sun did start the patent trolling.
  • by Coolhand2120 ( 1001761 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @11:05PM (#20489545)
    I have a F760 fiber channel filer that was made back in 1999 running a WAFL (ontap 6.x now) OS. Funny how Sun didn't 'notice' the infringement until they made their own version of WAFL http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZFS [wikipedia.org] in 2005. Even funnier that the creators of ZFS claim that WAFL is the "closest" file system to their own. All we have to do is look at the dates here people. Netapp has been using WAFL for almost a decade in production systems. I'm no fan of Netapp because they want to charge for copies of software that I already bought years ago (corrupt disks) but I hope Sun eats a crow for trying to claim infringement on a system that has been in use for several years.

    The filer is OLD!
  • by Vancorps ( 746090 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @11:27PM (#20489735)
    As opposed to the situation now? He who has the money makes the rules, that's the system we currently use. Those with the most money have the most patents and can sue anyone into oblivion. Surely there has to be some middle ground here.
  • by SCHecklerX ( 229973 ) <greg@gksnetworks.com> on Wednesday September 05, 2007 @11:34PM (#20489795) Homepage
    Patents aren't the problem. Software and Business Method patents are. To fix the patent system:
    1. No more business method or software patents. Physical systems only.
    2. Anything you patent, you must come up with a prototype or model within a reasonable amount of time. No working model or currently achievable design, no patent.

    If you can't create the model or design, or come up with a means to do so, too bad, no patent. Ideas are simple. Making something of them is what patents are supposed to protect.

    Software is not a physical thing. Why a need to patent? You really shouldn't be able to patent math or the way that you apply it. Copyright, sure, but not patent.
  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd,bandrowsky&gmail,com> on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:12AM (#20490077) Homepage Journal
    That's the whole point. If I invent a product, chances are, in order to really get it out, I will probably wind up infringing on someone else's patent in order to get a complete solution.

    For example, let's say I have a revolutionary new programming language. Great stuff, but, ultimately, it will need a bunch of existing technologies to make it work. I'll need parse trees, string manipulations, code generation, and hey, why not an IDE, all of which are covered by a bazillion patents already.

    So, if I bring my product to market, the best I can possibly hope for is a cross licensing agreement with a major player, and that in turn, means they can crush me. Or, they can work around my patent in some way, still get the feature, and crush me. Patents don't protect ideas, unless you have a lot of very good patent attorneys and those cost big bucks.

    In the world of machines, this doesn't happen. If I invent a new kind of a screw, its pretty obvious that the screw is a patentable thing. But software doesn't exist at that level of componentry and most likely never will. It simply can't. Software wants to integrate and to some extent, that makes it unique from the physical world. You don't need to integrate a particular kind of screw into every single socket and with every single tool, but ultimately, with software, you do wind up having to talk to every kind of protocol, database, and GUI, and in doing so, you wind up flying into a hailstorm of patents.

    Seriously, when's the last time anyone has actually checked to see if they infringe before they write something? Only a big company can really afford to do it. Face it, the idea of a little guy with a software patent is a myth, 95% of the time, and its simply not worth the cost to the rest of us - even if we work in a big corporation.
  • by Paradigm_Complex ( 968558 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @12:40AM (#20490343)
    The day gravity is an artificial man-made creation, something that is fully within man's ability to "make go away," your statement will be fine. For now, though, our control over Gravity is quite limited, whereas sufficiently well-placed discussions could in fact change the patent system. Perhaps not arguing about it on /. alone, no, but if you can bring the issue to the general (less-educated) public's attention, you may very well change it through discussion. The current problem with fixing the patent system is, almost in its entirety, the sheer lack of discussion.
  • by Bakafish ( 114674 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @01:30AM (#20490725) Homepage

    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.

    It's a nice story, but Sun is claiming the exact opposite actually happened, with NetApp trying to extort them over ZFS first. On a purely intuitive basis I'd say that sounds more reasonable, NetApp has much more to fear from ZFS than Sun had to gain by trying to extort some licensing fees.
  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @01:33AM (#20490745) Homepage

    Ideas are simple. Making something of them is what patents are supposed to protect.

    I'm not so sure that's true. What about the brilliant inventor who comes up with a very complicated system but has no capital with which to finance a prototype? Seems to me that patents would come in pretty handy in such a situation. Sans patent, you could spend five years searching around for independent financing while GE, which got wind of your idea somehow, has been working on developing it and refining it. Given five years' lead time, GE manages to make one or two substantial improvements on your invention, which it then turns around and patents. Sound fair?

  • Re:hmmm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gujo-odori ( 473191 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @01:54AM (#20490861)
    I doubt this will actually come to trial. I suspect NetApp is just playing the MAD card here to come to some kind "I'm OK, you're OK" cross-licensing deal. As TFA notes, Sun opened this can of worms by claiming NetApp was infringing on Sun patents. If they'd left well enough alone, they wouldn't be getting sued now. When all is said and done, they'll probably be back at their prior status quo. Sun is schizo; they don't know whether to open-source everything they've got, or sue someone over everything they've got :p
  • by mindslut ( 1152625 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @02:07AM (#20490929)
    A couple of themes I hear are that software shouldn't be patentable (fair premise) and that some people wish NetApp technology were cheaper (who would not prefer cheaper?) ... what kind of surprises me is that hardly anyone seems to know NetApp, where y'all been? WAFL is 15 years old ('92), and the snapshot only about a year younger.

    If ZFS seems to mimic WAFL, as I hear, I'd say that's a tribute to NetApp engineering, but NetApp is the Rodney Dangerfield in IT (no respect, I tell ya). I find it disheartening that among the tech literate, no one seems to have heard of the pioneers in this area, least of all recognize the innovation.

    If the /. set doesn't seem to think much of NetApp... what does it take? Winning popularity? Man oh man does it always come back to being the popular one? I'm hosed. I can do interesting things, but we don't all have that popularity knack.

    I have always liked the Sun logo, color, product names, etc., no idea why, it's just all sunny and light and fun and Internet, nothing like the real world.

    OK, hypothesis: The ceiling potential use and popularity of a programming language is determined by the language's name. Try:

  • by ettlz ( 639203 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @03:46AM (#20491447) Journal

    So lemme get this straight: a modern filesystem designed and engineered with a specific purpose, capability- and feature-set outperforms an older, more modestly-specced general-purpose filesystem designed with smaller volumes in mind in tests of such capabilities and feature sets?

    Say it ain't so!

  • by pD-brane ( 302604 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @03:49AM (#20491459) Homepage

    We could go on about how bad the system is, but that is irrelevant in the courts.
    That is correct, for the most part. IANAL, but isn't it so that even though the law is a set of axioms you have to comply to, there is room for a judge to interpret things one way or the other? Isn't it also true that sometimes new laws are written in the court room?
  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Thursday September 06, 2007 @04:28AM (#20491673)
    Ideas are cheap. Patents are not.

    If he has no cash to build a prototype, how is he going to pay for a patent portfolio?

    In the UK, it costs £200 to have a patent processed by the Patent Office, but there is an additional (approx) £3000 to have your patent drafted/checked by an agent against existing patents and translated into legalese. This £3000 is for each country that you want to apply for a patent. 20 countries, approx £60,000. Minimum. If you don't apply worldwide, the big guy, will simply take your patent and build and sell your product in the rest of the world.

    Then, once you have your patent. The big guy sets his reverse engineering team on it, they find a slightly different way of doing the same job, and all your patents are useless. Go ahead, just try and sue that multi billion dollar organisation, see what happens to your house, job and family.

    If you're a brilliant inventor with no money, you're pretty much fucked unless you can license your technology to a someone with deep pockets and who are reasonably honourable. Patents protect large organisations who can afford to roll them out worldwide... And patent lawyer's jobs.

    They are not there for the small fry.

User hostile.