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When Lawsuits Replace Innovation, Customers Lose

There has been a growing surge of legal action in the storage and
networking supplier community over the last few weeks, and no matter who
the winner is, the IT professionals who use these technologies are
going to be the real losers. I'm all for technology companies
protecting their intellectual property, and when a patent is directly
infringed on, they should do everything they can to protect themselves.
At some point, though, you have to accept that in technology, people are
going to try to add your successful features to their products.

It is interesting to note that the bulk of these lawsuits seem to be
filed by the largest organizations in the industry against some of the
smallest. This sort of "flood the room with lawyers" approach puts the
smaller organization at a severe disadvantage. A conspiracy theorist
might think that the goal was never to win the case but to keep the
small organization so busy fighting the lawsuit that they are either
forced to slow development or close all together. It also seems that these cases occur when the larger organization's
product or its capabilities are beginning to become commoditized, or
worse, when they are being made available as part of an open source offering.

I find
it hard to believe that we have invented everything that needs to be
invented in storage, and it's time to close the storage/networking wing
of the patent office. There is still plenty of work to do in file
systems, storage controllers, clustering, deduplication, compression,
encryptions, power efficiency and solid state disk integration. There is
still plenty of room to innovate and improve. A supplier needs to
decide if they are going to defend old ground or move on and take new

The problem with software technology in particular is that there are
limited barriers to entry. You don't have to build factories and have
sophisticated distribution networks in place. You need a computer,
development tools and a smart, creative set of developers. Technology
innovation is essentially a game of leap frog where companies will
basically copy the good ideas of their competitors, and then potentially improve
on them or offer them at a cheaper price. Just because someone has leapt
alongside of you, or maybe even in front of you, is not cause to
bring out the legal team.

Your job as a supplier is to stay ahead of the competition by developing
even better products and features or advancing the current feature
being copied even further. Users don't need you to stifle innovation by
threatening death by attorney to companies that challenge you. When
companies focus on taking new ground, advancing the state of the art,
users win, and so not coincidentally, so do those suppliers.