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NetApp's filesystem patents

NetApp (formerly Network Appliance, Inc.) aggressively uses the software patent portfolio they developed while writing their data storage filesystem called WAFL.

Used against ZFS distributors

Against Sun and Oracle

In 2007, aka NetApp sued Sun for alleged infringement of their software patents by ZFS.[1] ZFS is a filesystem for storing large amounts of data on computer disks. ZFS is free software, developed by Sun Microsystems.

Sun threatened to counter-sue.[2] Various sources mention Sun (now Oracle) having 45 or 56 patents related to ZFS which they could use to counter sue.[3][4]

Sun was bought by Oracle in 2010, and in September 2010 Oracle and NetApp agreed to end the litigation.[5]

Oracle's purchase of Sun included the ZFS copyrights and the related patents that Sun was to use against NetApp. However, the risk that Oracle might use these patents against distributors of ZFS are greatly reduced by the patent grant in ZFS's licence, the CDDL.

Other litigation

In 2010, NetApp threatened companies selling hardware with ZFS installed.[6]

What about Btrfs?

Can you help? Is there any reason to think Btrfs is at risk? I don't see any.

Btrfs is a newer filesystem which shares some goals with ZFS.

Having bought Sun, Oracle owns Sun's ZFS patents. Oracle funds development of Btrfs,[7] which may make it party to the granting of the implied licence that Btrfs' licence (GPLv2) grants.

Used to kill tux2

In 2000, the developer of the tux2 filesystem (Daniel Phillips) became aware of NetApp's patents. He developed the relevant techniques four years before NetApp filed for their patents, so he wasn't worried:

I've got prior art; [...] In any event, if they want to argue I think they'll find themselves in a position of having to kiss their main patents bye-bye.[8]

But Phillips gave up on tux2 in 2002. The problem was summarised as:

  1. It isn't *really* all that similar
  2. Daniel has prior art going back to the 1980's
  3. NetApp has more lawyers on staff than Daniel does

To which Phillips replied "That about sums it up."[9][10]

The patent numbers

Three patents are discussed on Sun's (now Oracle's) page on this matter:[11]

  • 5,819,292 - purportedly relating to "copy on write"
  • 6,857,001 - purportedly relating to "writable snapshots"
  • 7,174,352 - purportedly relating to "snapshot"

Phillips' mail about tux2 also mentions 5,819,292 and two others:[12]

  • 5,963,962 "Write anywhere file-system layout"
  • 6,038,570 "Method for allocating files in a file system integrated with a RAID disk sub-system"

Related pages on ESP Wiki

External links


  1. "NetApp hits Sun with patent-infringement lawsuit". "The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Lufkin, Texas, charges that the Sun ZFS technology infringes on seven NetApp patents pertaining to data processing systems and related software." 
  2. "ZFS Puts Net App Viability at Risk?". "...we're going to use our defensive portfolio to respond to NetApp, filing a comprehensive reciprocal suit. As a part of this suit, we are requesting a permanent injunction to remove all of their filer products from the marketplace..." 
  3. "Whither Btrfs?". "ZFS has approximately 45 associated patents" 
  4. "ZFS: The Last Word in Filesystems". "92,000 lines of change, 56 patents, 5 years... and there it is." 
  5. "NetApp, Oracle End ZFS Litigation". "The three-year legal battle between NetApp and Oracle has come to an end as the companies quietly dropped their dueling patent infringement lawsuits over the open source Zettabyte File System (ZFS)." 
  6. "NetApp threatens Coraid over sales of open-source ZFS technology". "We made the decision to suspend shipment after receiving a legal threat letter from NetApp Inc., suggesting that the open-source ZFS file system planned for inclusion with our EtherDrive Z-Series infringes NetApp patents" 
  7. "How Oracle might kill Google’s Android and software patents all at once". "Oracle likes Linux so much that it funds Btrfs" 
  8. "Tux2 - evil patents sighted".