Sun CEO to NetApp: I'm Rubber, You're Glue. What Bounces off Me Sticks to You
The laundry rooms at Sun Microsystems and Network Appliance must be on the fritz, because the two companies have begun washing their dirty laundry in public. Yesterday, NetApp sued Sun, alleging that its ZFS storage software, a key element of its Solaris operating system, violates seven NetApp patents. Dave Hitz, co-founder of NetApp, explained the rationale for the suit in a post to his blog:
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 file system, with little regard to intellectual property rights.”
Obviously, Sun disputes NetApp’s claims. It says NetApp approached it looking to acquire the patents at issue in the case, but later decided to try to have them invalidated instead. In a post to his own blog, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz described NetApp’s lawsuit as an attack on the open-source community.
“First, Sun did not approach NetApps about licensing any of Sun’s patents and never filed complaints against NetApps or demanded anything,” Schwartz wrote. “NetApps first approached StorageTek behind the cover of a third-party intermediary (yes, it sounds weird, doesn’t it?) seeking to purchase STK patents. After Sun acquired STK, we were not willing to sell the patents. We’ve always been willing to license them. But instead of engaging in licensing discussions, NetApp decided to file a suit to invalidate them. To be clear, we never filed a complaint or threatened to do so, nor did anyone, to the best of my knowledge, in the ZFS community.”