Sun countersues start-up Azul

Server maker argues Java hardware Azul infringed six patents and got trade secrets by hiring Sun employees.

Sun Microsystems filed a countersuit Wednesday against Java hardware maker Azul Systems, arguing that the start-up infringed six Sun patents and misappropriated trade secrets to build its Java hardware.

In addition, the server and software company argued that Azul Chief Executive Stephen DeWitt, a former Sun employee, violated an agreement not to compete with Sun, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose for the northern California district. That's the same court in which Azul filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in March against Sun , in search of an opinion that Azul didn't infringe 20 Sun patents.

According to Sun's countersuit, "Azul developed products and product strategy based on Sun's innovation rather than its own. By hiring away key former Sun employees, Azul improperly accessed Sun's technology and plans, which enabled Azul to accelerate introduction of its products to market."

In a statement, Azul attorney Bob Haslam said there are "no surprises" in the Sun suit.

"Sun's original set of allegations claimed an even longer list of patents and unspecified trade secrets than what is in their complaint filed today. This leads us to believe that we were right in seeking declaratory relief and we are confident we will prevail," he said. "This suit is not about Azul technology; this suit is about Sun and its predatory attempt to thwart Azul's innovative solution from penetrating the market."

Azul sells hardware that's designed to centralize the execution of Java programs that run on servers. Sun argued that Azul's systems use features Sun developed for its UltraSparc T1 "Niagara" chip and the servers that are based on the chip.

Sun said Azul lured away at least eight technical employees as well as marketing executive Shahin Khan. "Many key Azul employees are former Sun employees who now work on the same or substantially similar technology as they did when at Sun. A number of Sun employees left Sun to join Azul at or around the same time that DeWitt joined Azul...These employees were specifically targeted for recruiting by Azul," according to Sun's countersuit.

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