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Could NetApp suit throw a wrench in Sun-IBM talks?

NetApp's patent suit against Sun Microsystems could pose a challenging hurdle for Sun in its reported merger talks with IBM, reports American Lawyer's AM Law.com site.

NetApp's IP patent infringement lawsuit against rival Sun Microsystems may throw a wrench in Sun's reported merger talks with IBM, according to a report on American Lawyer's AM Law.com site.

Two years ago, NetApp filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Sun, alleging its rival violated seven of its patents with its ZFS file system--a key element to its Solaris operating system. NetApp demanded Sun remove its ZFS file system from the open-source community and storage products, and limit its use to computing devices.

Sun, in response, filed a countersuit, alleging NetApp violated a dozen of its patents.

For Sun, which reportedly has IBM combing through its contracts as part of its due diligence in the merger discussions, the NetApp lawsuit could pose a potential problem.

The ZFS file system is a key part of Solaris, and Solaris' role in the open-source community puts it in an enviable position in relation to IBM's efforts. IBM, as a result, may not want to lose that connection to the open-source community should NetApp prevail in its Sun lawsuit.

But NetApp also has a relationship it may want to retain with IBM.

Back in 2005, the companies formed a manufacturing partnership, in which NetApp's network-attached storage and storage area network products were repackaged under IBM's brand.

That IBM-NetApp relationship is still intact, which is sold by Big Blue under its IBM System Storage N Series, an IBM spokesman said.

NetApp did not return e-mails or phone calls seeking comment. IBM declined to comment on rumors or speculation regarding merger talks involving Sun.