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IBM accuses mainframe cloner of patent infringement

Suit also alleges that PSI, a maker of servers that run IBM's mainframe software, has broken a customer agreement.

IBM has sued Platform Solutions, which aims to sell servers that will run software designed for Big Blue's mainframes, alleging patent infringement and breach of contract.

IBM, which filed the suit last week in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claims that Platform Solutions (PSI) has violated the terms of a customer agreement with the technology giant and infringed five patents.

PSI declined to comment on the suit's specifics, but Christian Reilly, vice president of product management and marketing at the server specialist, called it "unjustified." "We believe IBM sees us as real competition. We provide customers with an alternative," Reilly said.

The company, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is developing servers that use Intel's Itanium processors but that can run z/OS, IBM's mainframe operating system, alongside higher-level mainframe software. The move to bring the software to comparatively mainstream systems is unusual: z/OS today runs on IBM mainframes that use an entirely different processor.

PSI's machines also can run more conventional operating systems--including Linux, Windows and Unix--that are already geared for Itanium. The company is currently testing its servers with select customers and plans to begin selling its systems early next year, Reilly said.

In its complaint, IBM said PSI holds an IBM customer agreement that allows it to license Big Blue's operating system software and other software, but only as an end-user.

The license agreement "expressly prohibits, among other things, any translation of the licensed software programs," IBM states in its complaint.

IBM also alleges PSI's "emulator," or translation, systems infringe on its five patents: 5,696,709; 5,825,678; 5,953,520; 5,987,495; and 6,801,993.

PSI is not the first company that has tried to horn in on IBM's mainframe business. In the mainframe's heyday, Amdahl, eventually acquired by Fujitsu, made "plug-compatible" systems that could run mainframe software.

Amdahl and Hitachi, however, left the mainframe market in early 2000. On its Web site, PSI says that the company was originally set up in 1999 by a core team of former Amdahl engineers.

IBM also argues in its lawsuit that it has refused to license its patents and copyrighted mainframe software for use in PSI's servers. Big Blue further notes that PSI is claiming IBM has violated federal antitrust laws by refusing to do so.

PSI declined to comment on the alleged antitrust assertions. PSI has not filed an antitrust lawsuit against IBM.