Symantec sues Microsoft to block Vista

Symantec has asked a U.S. court to block the further development, sale or distribution of Microsoft's upcoming Windows Vista operating system, claiming that the Redmond, Wash., software maker is wrongfully incorporating storage technology that it owns into the next-generation OS.

If granted, an injunction could stall the already-delayed release of the next version of Windows, and potentially, other Vista-related products, until all Symantec intellectual property is removed from the OS.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Seattle last week, the Cupertino, Calif.-based security software company alleges that Microsoft violated the terms of a license agreement with storage software company Veritas Software, which Symantec acquired last year, by using technology from the Veritas Volume Manager to develop competing features and products. The complaint also states that Microsoft improperly incorporated the technology into its operating system products, and that Microsoft concealed its misappropriation by denying Symantec access to Microsoft’s source code. Symantec claims that Microsoft was required to provide that access under the agreement. Symantec also alleges that Microsoft filed patents based on certain Veritas trade secrets.

The technology in dispute, the Veritas Volume Manager, is designed to allow operating systems to store and manipulate very large amounts of data. Its purpose is to overcome some fundamental limitations in storage hardware, and to protect systems from data loss by allowing them to recreate data when storage hardware fails.

Symantec wants a judge to order "the removal of all such intellectual property from Microsoft operating system products." It also seeks "proper compensation" for "the harm Microsoft has caused to Symantec."

Both parties agree that, in 1996, Veritas and Microsoft signed an agreement that gave Microsoft certain rights to the Veritas volume management technology. However, Microsoft claims that it purchased the intellectual property rights for all relevant technologies from Veritas in 2004.

"Even so," Microsoft said in a statement, "we have gone to great lengths ensure that our volume management functionality continues to works side by side with Veritas' products."

"Nowhere in that 2004 agreement was permission given to take the technology and use it as a basis to develop a competing product," Symantec spokesperson Cris Paden tells DataTrends, "and then offer or include that product as part of the Vista OS. They put us in a position where we are competing against our own intellectual property. And no company in the world would stand for that."

Paden says that both companies have worked in good faith to try to resolve their differences on this issue. "This wasn't any kind of knee-jerk reaction," he says. "Veritas had been talking with Microsoft about this before we acquired them, and after we closed the merger in July of last year, we continued to talk. This is not something that we or they wanted. It really is a case of two reasonable parties who weren't able to reach an agreement turning to the courts for help."

Microsoft seems to agree: "We worked hard to try to resolve these issues with Symantec, but were not able to reach an agreement. We believe the facts will show that Microsoft's actions were proper and are fully consistent with the contract between Veritas and Microsoft."

Despite the relatively strong language of the suit, both companies are going out of their way to characterize the dispute as a relatively small disagreement over IP rights. Symantec is one of the world's biggest independent software vendors for the Windows operating system, so the two companies are continuing to work together in other areas, Paden says.

"This court fight doesn't affect our overall business relationship," he says. "Our engineers are still talking with their engineers, and our response guys are still talking with their response guys during outbreaks. So all of that moves forward as business as usual. This is a firefight between legal teams.

"We value our relationship with Symantec," Microsoft says, "and we continue to work closely with them on a wide variety of issues."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].