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Sun countersuit: NetApp violates 12 patents

Sun Microsystems fires back against NetApp's patent infringement lawsuit involving the ZFS file system software.

A month ago, Network Appliance sued Sun Microsystems, alleging the server and software company's ZFS file system infringes seven NetApp patents. Sun on Thursday fired back with a suit that claims NetApp violates 12 of Sun's.

Sun's suit also argues that NetApp's patents are invalid and that it doesn't infringe them anyway. And it requests an injunction prohibiting the company from selling any products that infringe Sun's patents.

Patent suits are often expensive and acrimonious proceedings, and they're particularly unpleasant when fought among Silicon Valley rivals who often share mutual customers and sometimes even are business partners. The Sun-NetApp case is particularly interesting in that it's being fought in the blogosphere as well as U.S. District Court's Eastern Texas district: Sun Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz and NetApp founder Dave Hitz have been taking potshots at each other and expressing disappointment at the rival's needlessly litigious behavior as the case proceeded.

For a reporter such as myself who's heard "no comment" in response to countless queries about legal actions, these blogs add significant flavor to otherwise dry court proceedings. But being vocal about legal actions also can backfire, as in the case of The SCO Group's CEO, Darl McBride, whose very public accusations went over poorly with judges overseeing his case.

Sun legal counsel Mike Dillon on Thursday added his take for the countersuit, painting NetApp as a company that can't deal with the shift to open-source software. "But, it's clear that NetApp views the open source world much differently than Sun. We've made the transition--they can't contemplate it," Dillon said.

Hitz, meanwhile, posted his own response to the suit, publishing a note he sent to NetApp employees that assures them they still have jobs and assuring customers they still can buy NetApp products.

"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 it's safe to say the odds of Sun fulfilling their threat are near zero," Hitz said.

One thing Hitz said he finds "frustrating is the way Jonathan wraps himself in the open-source flag. We aren't against open source, and we aren't even against non-commercial use of ZFS. The number one rule of open source is that you should only give away stuff that belongs to you. That is what this suit is about, and everything else is just fluff."