SOS Storage Array Lawsuit Goes to Trial

The Storage Computer Corporation (whose acronym is its stock symbol—SOS) is suing Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) in the UK for violating several technology-related patents that SOS and many other storage industry vendors use for RAID arrays. A British court denied motions to dismiss the case in the UK Patent Court, which is part of the High Court of Justice. The case probably will go to trial next spring. Ted Goodlander, president of SOS, told Client Server News that this case could have repercussions for many Storage Area Network (SAN) and RAID system manufacturers. Unlike US courts, British courts try intellectual property cases quickly—they don't let cases drag through a long appeals process.

SOS claims that it holds patents dating back to 1984 for some of the basic technology that many storage servers use. Although SOS has used legal demand letters to press its claim against several unnamed storage companies, none of the claims has gone very far. By filing suit against cash-rich HDS last year, SOS hopes to advance its case with the other industry giants. Sidley & Austin, a large, respected international law firm, is handling the case on contingency for SOS.

In October 1999, SOS won a European patent battle that involved the parity-protected disk array technology that's the basis of its lawsuit; competitors opposed that patent for 8 years. The company received the European and US patent for parity-protected disk arrays, which led to claims SOS has made against US storage vendors. SOS hopes that a successful outcome in Europe creates a precedent that will help settle its claims in the United States without lengthy trials.

Specifically, SOS claims that HDS violated two patents: "Fault-Tolerant, Error-Correcting Storage System and Method for Storing Digital Information in such a Storage System" and "High-Speed, High-Capacity, Error-Correcting Storage System for Binary Computers." In 1984, the European courts issued these two patents to Cab-Tek, the predecessor to SOS in 1984. In 1984, Cab-Tek also patented an asynchronous storage array architecture and holds patents on SCSI disk arrays, parity-protected disk-array technology, and the software implementation of virtual storage devices. SOS insists that its patent portfolio gives it a claim over some basic system architecture and software SANs now use.

SOS claims that many of the major storage vendors have infringed its patents and demands that these storage vendors license the patented technologies from SOS, which would result in substantial revenue for the company. Lawyers for the plaintiff wouldn't speculate about what the successful resolution of the SOS lawsuit could be worth. However, Goodlander has said that the patent infringement claims affect more than 90 percent of the company's sales. Hewlett-Packard (HP) is an OEM of the highly regarded HDS Freedom storage servers, and reports claim that Sun Microsystems is also considering reselling the HDS Freedom systems.

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