Sun Files Countersuit in NetApp File System IP Dispute

NetApp seeks to remove ZFS from the marketplace because it threatens its business model, Sun claims in the suit.

Fifty days after Network Appliance filed a lawsuit Sept. 5 against Sun Microsystems seeking damages and a permanent injunction, claiming Sun infringed on several patents regarding NetApp's home-grown WAFL file system, Sun filed a countersuit.

NetApp claims Sun's ZFS (Zettabyte File System), which is included in Sun's Unix-derived Solaris operating system, is patterned directly after its own WAFL (Write Anywhere File Layout) file system.

Sun, which claims to have created ZFS before it released the code to the open-source community last year, filed counterclaims on Oct. 25 against the entire Network Appliance product line, seeking both injunctions and monetary damages. The legal affidavit was filed in an East Texas court, as was the original NetApp action.

"ZFS is an extraordinary innovation, so threatening to Network Appliances business model, they are seeking to remove it from the marketplace," Suns lawyers wrote Oct. 25 in a statement posted on the company web site.

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 believes Sun infringes, they said.

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This is not a case of stolen or copied code-from either inside or outside sources, NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven told a conference call of journalists and analysts last month from the company headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif.

"Were not saying they stole code from us," Warmenhoven said in answer to a question from eWEEK. "Were 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."

Statements from key players on both sides of the legal disagreement are being posted in personal blogs.

Sun President and CEO Jonathan Schwartz addressed the issue in his blog on Oct. 24, writing that "one of the ways we innovated was to create the magical file system called ZFS-which enables expensive, proprietary storage to be replaced with commodity disks and general purpose servers. Customers save a ton of money-and administrators save a ton of time. The economic impact is staggering-and understandably threatening to Ne App and other proprietary companies," Schwartz wrote.

"So last week, I reached out to their CEO [Warmenhoven] to see how we could avoid litigation. I have no interest whatever in suing them. None whatever," Schwartz wrote.

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...