Sun Files Countersuit Against Azul

Legal battle focuses on trade secrets and patents, and pits Sun versus ex-employees.

Sun Microsystems has fired back at Azul Systems with a lawsuit accusing the 4-year-old company of using stolen trade secrets and patents to build its product portfolio.

In a 29-page complaint filed May 3, Sun claims that Azul CEO Stephen DeWitt and nine other former Sun employees violated the conditions of an employee confidentiality agreement when they left to work for Azul and used what they had learned and worked on at Sun to develop Azuls technology.

Sun is seeking a jury trial, unspecified damages and a court order forcing Azul to stop the conduct.

The seven-count complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, in San Jose, Calif., also outlines several key Sun technologies Sun officials believe Azul engineers used in creating their products, including the micro-architecture for connecting multiple processors and modules on a single chip. Sun claims that the technology helped Azul build its Vega chip, which puts as many as 24 processing cores on a single piece of silicon.

"By hiring away key former Sun employees, Azul improperly accessed Suns technology and plans, which enabled Azul to accelerate introduction of its products to market," the complaint states.

In addition, Sun claims that former employees took with them information regarding Sun partners and customers.

Suns suit comes fewer than two months after Azul, of Mountain View, Calif., filed its own lawsuit, accusing Sun of trying to bully the smaller company into giving Sun part ownership of Azul and a percentage of what Azul makes on its products.

Both companies accuse the other of refusing to negotiate in good faith to resolve the issue out of the courts. According to Suns lawsuit, the two sides have met or talked on the telephone at least 10 times between April 2005 and March, when Azul filed its lawsuit.

"The unfortunate irony here is that Sun, a company with deep roots in research and development that actively markets sharing and expanding the technology landscape, has seen fit to adopt an anti-competitive strategy that stifles key innovation around the Java platform simply because they didnt invent it," DeWitt said in a prepared statement in March, when the Azul suit was filed.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read an interview with Azul CEO Stephen DeWitt.

DeWitt came to Sun in 2000, when Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif., bought his company, Cobalt, for about $2 billion. Suns complaint states that DeWitt signed a non-compete clause with Sun—as a condition of the acquisition—and was paid well as a Sun employee after the purchase, including acquiring stocks valued at around $100 million.

He left in 2002 and joined startup Azul, and was soon followed by other Sun employees, including Shahin Khan, who was Suns vice president of high-performance computing and now is Azuls vice president and chief marketing officer.

Other former Sun employees include Kevin Normoyle, a SPARC processor architect who now is chief architect at Azul, and Cliff Click, a senior staff engineer at Sun who holds the same position at Azul.

Other employees include engineers and marketing people.

Azuls products are aimed at Java developers. The company makes systems based on what they call "network-attached processing." The Vega chip is central to the systems. Though currently able to hold 24 cores on a single chip, Azuls road map includes Vega 2, which will offer up to 48 cores and will enable systems that can scale up to 768 cores.

Businesses put Azuls proxy software on their servers to enable the offloading of Java workloads from servers running BEA Systems WebLogic, WebSphere from IBM or JBoss. Offloading these Java applications from the general-purpose processor improves the performance of the workloads, according to Azul officials.

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