Sybase sues database start-up in east Texas court

Infringement lawsuit, quietly filed earlier this year, targets vertical-DB maker Vertica.

Microsoft acquiree Datallegro isn't the only data warehousing start-up being accused of patent infringement.

Sybase is quietly suing analytic database maker Vertica Systems for allegedly infringing the former's patents in the suddenly trendy area of vertical, or column-oriented, databases. Sybase's lawsuit was filed almost eight months ago, on Jan. 30, in U.S. District Court in Tyler, Texas.

A trial date has been set for June 7, 2010, according to a Sybase spokeswoman, who declined to answer other questions about the lawsuit, including why the based company chose the Texas court as the location for suing Vertica.

The Tyler courthouse is the main office for the Eastern District of Texas, which is viewed as a favorable venue for patent suits. For instance, according to data cited in a 2006 Technology Reviewarticle headlined "A Haven for Patent Pirates," plaintiffs prevail in patent lawsuits that go to trial in the district's Marshall courthouse 88% of the time, vs. 68% nationwide.

Patent cases also tend to be decided or settled more quickly in east Texas than they do elsewhere. In fact, the informational page on the court's Web site for U.S. District Judge Leonard Davis, who is presiding over Sybase's suit, says that one of his three goals is "to be timely in deciding the matters that come before the court."

Davis hears cases in both Tyler and Marshall, according to the Web site. In one case decided in 2006, he slapped Microsoft with $25 million in "enhanced damages" on top of $115 million that the software vendor was ordered to pay z4 Technologies, a small Michigan-based company that had sued Microsoft and Autodesk for patent infringement. Davis said that the additional damages were for "litigation misconduct" by Microsoft.

Other plaintiffs in pending high-tech patent lawsuits filed in east Texas include Intel Corp., Freescale Semiconductor and Konami Digital Entertainment, while large vendors facing suits there include Google, Microsoft and Apple.

According to independent database analyst Curt Monash, who mentioned Sybase's suit in a blog post earlier this month, the patents in question appear to be ones issued to the software vendor in the late 1990s. The first, patent number 5794229, is for technology that supports "storing a database table by vertically partitioning all columns of the table," while the second, number 5918225, is for a "SQL-based database system with improved indexing methodology."

Sybase pioneered the vertical database market with its Sybase IQ analytics server. Vertical databases store data in tables by column, rather than by row. That tends to put similar numerical data closer together, speeding up read times. Although not important for highly transactional databases in which data is equally read and written, it can be a big plus for data warehouses, in which data tends to be written once to disk and then read numerous times.

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