Azul Sues Sun to Protect Itself
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UPDATED: Server startup Azul Systems today said it has filed a lawsuit to protect itself from allegations of patent infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets from Sun Microsystems.
Azul, led by former Cobalt CEO and Sun executive Stephen DeWitt, makes servers that pipe computing and storage resources as a distributed network service to power Java applications.
The startup said in a statement that Sun repeatedly threatened the company with litigation unless Azul granted Sun part ownership of the company. Sun also demanded Azul pay up-front fees and royalties on the sale of Azul products.
Azul said it abandoned hope of a deal when Sun gave Azul an ultimatum to "accept its final proposal or face litigation."
But a Sun spokesperson said Azul's action comes despite an agreement the parties entered into allowing additional time for business negotiations to take place, and despite the fact the parties were exploring additional avenues of resolving this dispute.
Sun, who said Azul has repeatedly stonewalled and delayed during the year Sun has tried to negotiate, vowed to take action.
"It is unfortunate, but now that Azul has taken this litigious path, Sun has no choice but to fully protect and enforce its intellectual property rights," the spokesperson said in a statement.
Azul President and CEO DeWitt told internetnews.com that Azul filed suit in Northern California court as a preemptive strike because the company believes litigation from Sun is "imminent and pending."
He said the company is accusing him of using trade secrets he gained when he worked at Sun, which he joined after the systems vendor acquired computing appliance maker Cobalt Networks.
DeWitt said he led Sun's foray into Linux computing before retiring in 2002 to "recharge his batteries."
He later met Azul founders Scott Sellers, Gil Tene and Shyam Pillamalari, none of whom had a connection to Sun, and agreed to join Azul.
Azul said it has repeatedly offered Sun the chance to prove its claims via audits, technical and confidential documents and details of the company's intellectual property portfolio and development practices.
DeWitt said Sun's ultimatum and refusal to validate the merit of its claims proves the company is trying to bully Azul by using its larger size to bog down Azul resources at a time when the smaller company is gaining momentum."
"We believe that this is purely competitively motivated," DeWitt said. "The adoption of network-attached processing as a platform is clearly viewed by Sun as a threat.
"We're at a point right now where our products are gaining adoption at a very fast clip. I don't find it any small coincidence that this coincides with the increased adoption of the company's technology."
Whether or not Sun has a point of contention remains to be seen, but there is little question that Azul's servers attack an area Sun has said is an important part of its business: virtualization and provisioning of compute cycles in cluster or grid environments.
Azul's Compute Appliances are in direct competition with machines from Sun and other systems vendors such as IBM and HP, which are using their own technological approaches to underpin their utility computing strategies.