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NetApp and Oracle Calm Fears About ZFS Patents

09.09.2010
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After their long 3-year legal battle around the open source Zettabyte File System (ZFS), Oracle and NetApp announced their mutual dismissal of patent litigation against one another.  The case, which involved patent claims on both sides, was left over from the Sun Microsystems era.  The agreement should benefit a number of vendors who use ZFS in their software.  

The case started in 2007 when NetApp sued Sun for allegedly violating seven NetApp patents around ZFS.  NetApp also demanded that Sun acknowledge that three of its patents hadn't been violated by NetApp.  Sun counter-sued NetApp and the long, money-draining process began.

Fast-forward to this week and you find that Oracle, Sun's new owner, has come to an agreement with NetApp in which both companies have dismissed pending patent litigation.  NetApp CEO Tom Georgens said that his company would "continue to collaborate with Oracle to deliver solutions that help our mutual customers."  The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Today's announcement may clear up the patent cloud hovering over ZFS.  The uncertainty around the dispute apparently caused Apple to close its ZFS project last year.  Now ZFS storage vendors, such as Nexenta, might sleep a little easier knowing that certain patents associated with ZFS were not enforced.  

This news however, does not change the licensing issues that prevent ZFS from being integrated into the Linux kernel (the CDDL license of ZFS is incompatible with the GPL).  Some interesting ZFS modules have been created for the Linux kernel, but developers can instead integrate ZFS directly into other kernel sources.  It's already been integrated with NetBSD and FreeBSD.  It will probably be integrated into the new Illumos project as well.