Sun Files Second Set of Countersuits Against NetApp

Sun Microsystems asks the court to shut down an entire NetApp product line.

Sun Microsystems Oct. 29 fired two more legal shots at Network Appliance in the form of a pair of additional countersuits in the companies' two-month-old legal squabble about file system intellectual property.

The IT infrastructure giant is also asking to move the venue of the case from Texas to Northern California, where the two companies are headquartered only about 10 miles apart.

Four days after Sun filed its first countersuit Oct. 25 in Texas, it filed two counterclaims in California, under the Lanham Act and California Business and Professions Code, as a response to what it called "NetApp's false statements" to the public about the alleged use of NetApp patents in the ZFS (Zettabyte File System).

Sun's latest filing includes counterclaims against the entirety of NetApp's product line, including the entire NetApp enterprise FAS (fabric-attached storage) products, NearStore products and V-Series products using Data Ontap software, seeking both injunction and monetary damages.

NetApp claimed in its original Sept. 5 lawsuit, which seeks monetary damages and a permanent injunction against Sun using ZFS in its storage products, that the ZFS, which is included in Sun's Unix-derived Solaris operating system, is patterned directly after NetApp's WAFL (Write Anywhere File Layout) file system.

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Click here to read more about the countersuits Sun has filed against NetApp.

ZFS is an extraordinarily fast file system. Both WAFL, developed by NetApp in the early 1990s, and the 128-bit Solaris ZFS are based on a transactional object model that removes most of the traditional constraints associated with I/O operations, resulting in substantial performance gains.

"ZFS is an extraordinary innovation, so threatening to Network Appliance's 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 considers its litigation a defensive move after Sun sought to charge NetApp to license its technology, said officials of NetApp, based in Sunnyvale, Calif. In response, NetApp reviewed its own list of patents and identified those it believes Sun infringes, they said.

"Sun was legally obligated to respond in Texas to the initial suit brought on Sept. 5, 2007, by NetApp to forestall competition from the free ZFS technology," Sun spokesperson Dana Lengkeek told eWEEK, in Santa Clara, Calif. "Today we filed additional counterclaims in California ... based on NetApp's false statements to the public about the alleged use of Network Appliance patents in ZFS."

Sun will also be bringing a motion before the court in California asking that the case filed in Texas be consolidated with the case filed Oct. 29 for trial in the Bay Area, headquarters to both Sun and NetApp.

"All of the key witnesses in this case are located here, as are our attorneys. The same for most of the documentary evidence. And almost all of the technology in dispute was developed here as well," Sun Senior Vice President and General Counsel Mike Dillon wrote in his blog.

Since most of the legal discovery will also be done in California, Dillon wrote, "it makes more sense in terms of efficiency and economy that this case be litigated here."

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To read more about NetApps suit against Sun Microsystems over the Zettabyte File System, click here.

Dave Hitz, a co-founder of NetApp, reassured his company's employees and customers in his blog that "your jobs are safe ... [and] our products are all still for sale.

"Can you ever remember a Fortune 1000 company being shut down by patents? It just doesn't happen! Even for the RIM/Blackberry case, which is the closest I can think of to a big company being shut down, it took years and years to get to that point, and was still averted in the end. I think its safe to say the odds of Sun fulfilling their threat are near zero."

The 15-page court document concerning Sun's countersuits can be found here.

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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...