NetApp, Oracle Settle Old Patent Litigation over ZFS

 
 
By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2010-09-09
 
 
 

When Oracle annexed Sun Microsystems and all that intellectual property in its $7.4 billion deal last January, it also inherited all of Sun's legal entanglements.

As of Sept. 9, one of those has gone away. NetApp and Oracle announced a settlement regarding a 3-year-old patent lawsuit over the origin of ZFS (Zettabyte File System). Terms of the legal agreement were deemed confidential.

NetApp originally filed suit against Sun on Sept. 5, 2007, to forestall competition from the free ZFS technology, which Sun released to the open-source community in 2005.

That original lawsuit eventually touched off two more IP arguments between the two companies, including one filed by Sun on March 26, 2008, involving a patent related to Onaro's SANscreen storage software that NetApp acquired in January 2008.

SANscreen, deployed in 32 percent of Fortune 50 companies at the time of the acquisition, allows enterprises to manage large amounts of storage with minimum downtime. Sun claimed its IP was the basis of that product.

For its part, NetApp claimed Sun's ZFS, a speedy, industrial-strength storage file system included in Sun's Unix-derived OpenSolaris operating system, is patterned directly after its own WAFL (Write Anywhere File Layout) file system and should not have been released to the open-source community.

Sun, which claimed to have created ZFS long before it released the code, filed countersuits on Oct. 25, 2007, against the entire NetApp product line, seeking both injunctions and monetary damages.

Sun's legal affidavit was filed in an East Texas court, as was the original NetApp action. The court case was later moved to California, where it has languished until now.

"ZFS is an extraordinary innovation, so threatening to NetApp's business model, they are seeking to remove it from the marketplace," Sun lawyers said at the time.

NetApp characterized its suit as a defensive step after Sun sought to charge NetApp to license its technology, NetApp officials said. In response, NetApp reviewed its own list of patents and identified those it believed Sun infringed, they said.

This was not a case of stolen or copied code-from either inside or outside sources, NetApp's then-CEO Dan Warmenhoven said.

"We're not saying they stole code from us," Warmenhoven told eWEEK at the time. "We're saying that there are clear patterns of techniques that we use in our file system that are in ZFS, and that we want Sun to stop using it commercially."

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