NetApp: I Like Your Style, Now Back It Up

Today I got a note from NetApp co-founder and Executive Vice President Dave Hitz:

“I’m Dave Hitz, one of the co-founders of NetApp. I suspect that our lawsuit will trigger “discussion” (to put it politely) in the open source world. I didn’t want you to be taken by surprise, since people may turn to you with questions. I wrote a blog with my thoughts on the situation.” If you have any questions–or just want to chat–I’d love to talk with you this afternoon…

I am sure I am not the only one that got this communication but I like the proactive outreach. I also like the fact that Dave wrote a well thought out and easy to understand assessment of the situation. Here’s the overview snipped from Dave’s blog:

This morning, NetApp filed an IP (intellectual property) lawsuit against Sun. It has two parts. The first is a “declaratory judgment,” asking the court to decide whether we infringe a set of patents that Sun claims we do. The second says that Sun infringes several of our patents with its ZFS technology.

I don’t like software patents one bit but they exist and so I don’t blame companies for taking them out for protection within our legal systems. However, I would hope that companies that do have these patents yield them in a responsible way. Not as Dave points out to create profit centers but for their own protection in a flawed system.

So here’s the challenge for NetApp. Perhaps they win their judgment and that Sun infringed on their IP. IF that happens they should settle that deal with Sun appropriately. The big question is,”What’s their next course of action?”. IANAL but I suspect that they can yield their IP in a way to help propagate open source users and not hurt their business. They obviously understand their is value in open source or else the co-founder wouldn’t be reaching out to open source bloggers. Is there an opportunity to also reach out and become more involved in the open source community? Ball’s in your court, Dave and company.

Given that there is a pending legal case I am surprised NetApp commented and I will be curious to see if Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz will offer his view of the situation.

For more of Mark Hinkle, visit his EncoreOpus blog.