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Network Appliance Sues Sun, But Says It's No SCO

NetApp, which blames Sun for starting the intellectual property dispute, tries to distance itself from SCO's long-running, controversial lawsuit.
Network Appliance is suing Sun Microsystems for patent infringement, striking back against demands made by Sun over the past 18 months that NetApp pay to use Sun's storage-related intellectual property.

NetApp claims in it its lawsuit that Sun's ZFS technology infringes on several NetApp patents related to its WAFL file system, and that Sun's exacerbating the damage by distributing ZFS technology to third parties, notably by making ZFS available as open source code. NetApp, in a case filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Texas, is asking for an injunction to stop Sun's distribution and for damages.

According to NetApp, Sun first approached it about 18 months ago, saying NetApp needed to license technology primarily acquired through Sun's acquisition of StorageTek. In a conference call with NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven and VP Dave Hitz, NetApp executives said Sun stopped negotiating after NetApp reviewed its own patent portfolio and accused Sun of infringing.

Sun denies NetApp's account, suggesting NetApp first approached it looking to acquire the patents it's now trying to get the court to invalidate. It describes NetApp's lawsuit as an attack on the open source community broadly.

"ZFS is the fastest growing storage virtualization technology in the marketplace, and NetApp's attempt to use patent litigation to inhibit the meteoric rise of open source technologies like ZFS is tantamount to being unhappy with gravity," Sun said in a statement.

In announcing its legal action, NetApp acknowledged how controversial tech patent litigation can be, and that business customers can be confused and put off by such lawsuits. Dave Hitz, NetApp founder and VP, specifically referred to SCO's long-running lawsuit over the ownership of Unix code. "It is important to me that technical readers not confuse NetApp with SCO," Hitz writes on his blog. That, he says, is why the company provided a detailed description of one element of the case, how NetApp believes ZFS' file system consistency infringes on its patents.