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IBM Sues Maker Of Intel-Based Mainframe Clones

In a lawsuit, IBM alleges that the mainframe "emulator systems" offered by Platform Solutions violate IBM patents on its z/OS operating system and its previous mainframe operating system, known as OS/390.

In its second major patent enforcement action in as many months, IBM is quietly suing an Intel-backed maker of computers that uses a version of IBM's high-end mainframe operating system reconfigured to run atop Intel's industry standard processors, InformationWeek has learned.

In a lawsuit, IBM alleges that the mainframe "emulator systems" offered by Platform Solutions Inc. violate IBM patents on its z/OS operating system as well as patents relating to its previous mainframe operating system, known as OS/390.

On its Web site, Platform Solutions claims that it offers a "new generation of compatible mainframe computers designed to meet the rapidly changing business needs of today's enterprise." The company says its Intel 64-bit Itanium-based systems are fully compatible with z/OS and OS/390. IBM typically offers those operating systems for sale only with IBM mainframes running more expensive dedicated processors of its own manufacture.

"PSI has developed and is now implementing a business model that seeks to usurp the value of IBM's investment in mainframe computer systems," IBM alleges in the suit, which was filed last week in U.S District Court in New York. Platform Solutions' emulator translates "IBM's copyrighted software into a set of instructions that can be executed by a processor that is not capable of executing the original IBM instructions," IBM claims.

IBM's decision to sue Platform Solutions is another indication that the company is becoming more aggressive about defending its intellectual property in an effort to extract more revenue from its extensive patent trove. In late October, the company sued Amazon.com, claiming that Amazon's online sales technology violates a number of IBM e-commerce patents.

At the time, David Kappos, IBM's top attorney for intellectual property, told InformationWeek that the suit didn't mark the beginning of an IBM campaign to hunt down patent violators, even though the company publicly announced the decision to sue Amazon through a press release. IBM hasn't made any public disclosures, other than the court filing, about the Platform Solutions lawsuit.

In that filing, IBM says it had little choice to sue Platform Solutions because the vendor's clone systems put IBM's reputation in jeopardy. IBM claims Platform Solutions' technology won't run its mainframe operating systems properly, and the result could be customer disappointment that might wash over to IBM. "IBM has a strong interest in ensuring that z/OS is not used on computer systems with which z/OS is not fully compatible or used in ways that have the potential to undermine either the reputation of z/OS for accuracy, data integrity, and reliability of z/OS for mission critical applications," IBM says in its lawsuit.

Platform Solutions was founded in 1999 by a team of engineers that formerly worked at mainframe maker Amdahl. The privately held company bills itself as "The New Choice In Mainframe Computers" and has received funding from Goldman Sachs, Fujitsu, and Itanium manufacturer Intel, among others. In August, Platform Solutions demonstrated its mainframe clones at a conference in Baltimore held by SHARE, an IBM user group. IBM says Platform Solutions is making a number of false claims to potential customers, including that IBM will "license its operating systems for use on PSI's systems in a 'business as usual' manner."

IBM also claims that Platform Solutions ignored its requests to examine a clone system and negotiate possible cases of infringement. The computing giant says Platform Solutions' response was to threaten it with antitrust litigation. IBM is asking the U.S. District Court to declare pre-emptively that its mainframe business doesn't violate any antitrust laws. It's also suing Platform Solutions for breach of contract.

IBM is seeking an injunction that would prevent Platform Solutions from selling its systems and is asking for unspecified financial damages. Executives from Platform Solutions weren't immediately available for comment.

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