Flash startup Pure Storage fights EMC in trade-secrets battle

Pure claims EMC illegally obtained one of its products to steal intellectual property

By , IDG News Service |  Storage

A legal war between EMC and flash startup Pure Storage has escalated to charges of patent infringement and illegally obtaining a storage array to mine it for intellectual property.

The fight has exposed competitive tensions surrounding all-flash arrays, which are expected to play a growing role in data centers as enterprises seek faster data access and more efficient storage platforms. Pure is a specialist in all-flash gear that started shipping in 2011, while the venerable EMC is aggressively pursuing the market through its acquired XtremIO division.

EMC sued Pure earlier this month in a Massachusetts federal court, charging that the startup hired 44 of its former employees and got them to hand over confidential EMC information in violation of their employment agreements. On Tuesday, Pure denied those charges and filed a counter-complaint that alleges EMC secretly took a Pure product across the country and into XtremIO headquarters. Only hours after that filing occurred, EMC sued Pure in a different court for alleged patent infringement.

Both companies say their rival's actions were part of an ongoing pattern of unfair competition. EMC's suit over the 44 former employees followed a series of such suits it had filed against former employees. This was the first time it had gone after Pure itself.

"The activities advanced and directed by Pure Storage are part of a systematic and unlawful strategy to identify, target and convert valuable EMC assets for Pure Storage's benefits as Pure Storage seeks to brand itself as an 'innovator' in the enterprise storage market, apparently as part of its pre-IPO strategy," EMC said in its Nov. 5 complaint. Dozens of former EMC employees have stolen "tens of thousands of pages" of confidential information from EMC, the company said.

Pure has countered its larger rival's charges with its official denial as well as blog posts by its CEO, Scott Dietzen. Writing on Tuesday, Dietzen said "a vendor harassing former employees that freely choose to join a competitor," among other things, should be "out of bounds" in the rivalry between the companies.

But Pure's counterclaim is even more scathing. The startup charges that a Massachusetts system integrator bought a Pure Storage FlashArray FA-320 device in October or early November 2012, saying it would be used by one of its subsidiaries in New Hampshire. Instead, the company shipped the array to EMC, with which it had a longtime relationship. Specifically, the box was shipped to the Silicon Valley headquarters of the XtremIO division, at EMC's expense, Pure said. XtremIO's own all-flash array was still under development at that time. EMC even used its own corporate UPS account number for the shipment, according to the counter-complaint.

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