IBM Sues LzLabs Over Mainframe Patents

Over a decade since the Neon lawsuit, Big Blue sues LzLabs, alleging the Swiss mainframe migration firm infringed its mainframe patents

IBM has begun legal action against LzLabs, alleging the Switzerland-based company has violated it’s intellectual property (IP) rights.

Big Blue announced on Monday that LzLabs was “repeatedly infringing upon company patents protecting various aspects of IBM’s high-performance mainframe systems, a core technology that clients depend on for their most important workloads.”

Although mainframes are considered by some to be legacy tech, it has not stopped legal action previously.

Neon Systems

In 2009 for example, Neon Enterprise Software, an Austin, Texas company that made software designed to shift mainframe workloads onto cheaper speciality processors, sued IBM, alleging Big Blue was using anticompetitive tactics.

IBM came back and countersued Neon in January of 2010 for unfair business practices and anticompetitive behaviour of its own, namely copyright violation.

Neon then amended its complaint in February 2010 sharing more specific details of IBM’s alleged anticompetitive behaviour.

Want to know more about the mainframe? Try our Tales In Tech History article.

Both parties settled the dispute in June 2011, with Neon immediately withdrawing its zPrime product from the market, and certain key staff members were banned from reverse engineering, reverse compiling or translating specific IBM software.

No payments made by either side.

LzLabs sued

Fast forward eleven years and IBM has now filed its lawsuit against LzLabs, founded in Switzerland in 2011, in the US District Court in Waco, Texas.

LzLabs offers a platform called Software Defined Mainframe (SDM).

SDM is designed to help IBM mainframe users migrate their applications to a modern platform (i.e. a cluster of x86 servers or the cloud), without having to modify the applications or the associated data.

In the complaint IBM alleges that LzLabs has deliberately misappropriated IBM trade secrets by reverse engineering, reverse compiling and translating IBM software.

IBM also alleges that LzLabs has made false and misleading claims about LzLabs’ products.

As a result, IBM said it is seeking relief that includes an injunction against LzLabs to prevent further unlawful use of IBM’s intellectual property and trade secrets.

Neon link

And IBM was keen to stress the link between LzLabs and Neon Enterprise Software.

IBM in its complaint alleged that LzLabs is owned and run by some of the same individuals who previously owned and ran Neon Enterprise Software.

IBM alleged that Neon “previously attempted to free ride on IBM’s mainframe business, and prior litigation between IBM and Neon ended with a US District Court permanently barring Neon and certain of its key employees from, among other things, reverse engineering, reverse compiling and translating certain IBM software, and also from continuing to distribute certain Neon software products.”

IBM said it has made “significant investment in research and development in this critical technology field and will aggressively defend its investments and resulting patents against those who violate them, as LzLabs has now repeatedly done.”

It said the IBM patents infringed by LzLabs include:

  • Two that describe methods embodied in IBM mainframe instructions that LzLabs must emulate with or translate into Intel x86 instructions,
  • Two that describe methods of increasing emulation/translation efficiency that LzLabs must implement if it is to achieve optimized performance objectives; and
  • One that describes a method related to the translation of IBM mainframe applications wherein IBM programs called by those applications are identified and an x86 substituted for each.

There does not seem to be any response or statement yet from LzLabs on the lawsuit.