Nearly two months ago, NetApp filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Sun Microsystems concerning the ZFS file system. In the spirit of transparency, NetApp co-founder Dave Hitz offered an explanation in his blog. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz responded via his own blog. Thus began what The Register's Ashlee Vance calls "executive spew dot oh" -- a blog war that seems to be the first of its kind. Vance notes:
Lawyers for both sides must feel revulsion, resentment and fear every time one of these loquacious nerds fires up his browser. On the practical front, the executive disclosures seem to have brought us no closer to the truth....
The series of blog posts doesn't do anything more than "mimic" the legal filings one might see in such cases, he says. Even so, it's turning into what he sees as a public relations nightmare for Hitz and NetApp:
NetApp wants to win this case, so it filed the original lawsuit in the IP troll-friendly courts of the Eastern District of Texas. Right away, that puts NetApp's claims in a negative light....Then you have Sun playing the open source card...
But is the open source card relevant to the lawsuit itself, really? In the court of public opinion it certainly is, as Vance points out, because many in the broader open source community oppose the idea of software patents generally. But in the event that the court finds in favor of NetApp, the fact that ZFS has been open sourced wouldn't eliminate NetApp's rights.
I would imagine that NetApp would close the ZFS code just like Nessus closed its code and went proprietary in early 2006. It wouldn't affect the ZFS-based open source projects that are out there and under development up until that point; they just wouldn't have the benefit of any later versions of the system that NetApp released.
It may not be the smartest move given that even Microsoft is giving in to the open source trend, but that's another blog post.