NetApp sues Sun over 7 patents

Network Appliance, the Sunnyvale maker of computer storage systems, is suing Sun Microsystems for allegedly infringing on seven patents and releasing them under an open-source license.

Experts in patent law say the suit, filed this morning in U.S. District Court in Lufkin, Texas, could become a test case of how to treat open-source software that improperly includes patented technology.

"This is something people feared for a long time was coming," said Mark A. Lemley, a law professor at Stanford University.

Open-source software makes its source code available and often encourages modification and distribution. Lots of open-source software is made available for free, compared with proprietary software, which tends to treat source code as a trade secret and traditionally is available only to people who purchase a license.

In a conference call with reporters and analysts this morning, Network Appliance Chief Executive Dan Warmenhoven said his company is asking the federal judge for a declaratory judgment against Sun, a permanent injunction to prevent further infringement and unspecified damages.