Sun and NetApp's IP War: Clogging the Blogosphere

Last Updated Oct 25, 2007 4:40 PM EDT

judge.jpgIts war between Sun Microsystems and Network Appliance, and the blogosphere is the battleground -- for now. Here's the breakdown of events:

*Sun accused NetApp of infringing on its patent copyrights and demanded $36 million.

*NetApp denied doing so, and then filed a law suit against Sun, saying its Open Source ZFS file system infringes on NetApp's WAFL patents.

*Sun then filed a reciprocal suit, part of which requests NetApp remove all its filer products from the marketplace.

Last month, NetApp founder Dave Hitz blogged about the events that led them to litigation, and Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz responded, positioning his company as the good guy that wants to stay out of court. Hitz fought back explaining that NetApp has no choice -- and the tennis match continues.

To Sun, the bottom line is: switching from a propietary model to Open Source is tough, but we innovated to get in there (with ZFS). Competitors naturally have sour grapes. NetApps sees it differently: sure, there was some innovation in there -- but it was ours, not yours. You took it from us and made it available for free.

Jonathon Schwartz commented on NetApp's perspective yesterday:

"Their objectives were clear - number one, they'd like us to unfree ZFS, to retract it from the free software community. Which reflects a common misconception among proprietary companies - that you can unfree, free. You cannot."
Hitz's latest post attacks that stance:
"Jonathan's claim that 'you cannot unfree what is free' sets a very dangerous precedent. It says that you can steal anything, as long as you open source it afterwards. That can't be right! I do understand that many open source proponents argue there should be no legal protection at all for information. 'Information wants to be free.' But even if Jonathan believes that, he ought to wait until the law changes before taking Sun down that path."
Schwartz seems to indicate that NetApp is ruthlessly pursuing its own commercial interests to the detriment of the Open Source development, which hurts business on the whole. But Hitz has a valid point: "It doesn't help the open source movement to give away code that is encumbered with someone else's patent rights." And as he pointed out in his first blog, Sun's patent portfolio is indeed a profit center for them. They're not the Robin Hood of file systems; they have commercial interests, too.

(Judge image courtesy of Robin Hutton, cc2.0)