On two wheels

Earlier this month, the Bay Area recognized “Bike to Work Day”. Many companies participated, including Sun which has a fanatical base of employees who incorporate bicycling into their lives. Each year we have individual employees and teams participating in the AIDS ride and riding in fund raisers to fight MS. In the past, I used to commute by bike to our Santa Clara campus. It was a refreshing way to start the work day and an even better way to shed the stress before returning home. Regretfully, the distance to Sun’s Menlo Park campus (where I work now) has undermined my ability to commute by bike – unless I can find someone to volunteer as a “domestique”.

This doesn’t mean that I have forgone my love of the pedals. In fact, these days I do more riding than ever. (This weekend’s descent down Montebello Road , accompanied by a Coldplay soundtrack, was almost transcendental.) I’ve also enjoyed getting more involved in organized rides and other interesting biking activities. The latest is San Jose Bike Party. Held late in the evening on the third Friday of each month, it’s a viral event bringing together riders from throughout the South Bay and Peninsula. This month’s ride included nearly 1,000 riders of all levels with many in costume. My favorite was the tandem pulling a couch – the cycling equivalent of an RV? The experience of riding down a major city thoroughfare at midnight with hundreds of other riders was both celebratory and eerie. But, it provided an appealing glimpse of life without the automobile.

For those interested, the next ride is Friday, June 19th.

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Coming up for air

I’ve had a number of people inquire when I will write about this. At this point, all I can say is that it has been a fascinating experience (and an exhausting number of months). For those of you who want to know more, here’s where you can find the preliminary proxy. I will write more as we get further along in the process, but for now….

Lost in all the excitement about the Oracle announcement was some wonderful news relating to a litigation against Sun.

Almost three years ago, a company named Trilogy (now Versata Software) filed suit against Sun in the Eastern District of Texas. For a number of years, Sun had licensed from Trilogy what is known as configurator software – a program that enables a company to track components and build hardware configurations. (I own a Mini. If you go to the Mini website you can assemble online the type of vehicle you want, including all components and options. This is an example of configurator software.)

Sun paid many millions of dollar to Trilogy for the use of the software and additional support, but it never worked to our satisfaction. In 2002, we made the decision to look for an alternative and adopted an Oracle platform with additional features created by Sun. Needless to say, Trilogy was not happy with the loss of business and chose to sue Sun alleging patent infringement, copyright misappropriation and breach of contract, among other claims. As we proceeded with discovery, it was clear that Trilogy was extremely confident in their position as reflected in their unwillingness to engage in any meaningful settlement discussions.

For us, the case was a difficult one to assess. Although we were certain we should prevail, we knew that it would be challenging for a jury to understand the complex technology and intellectual property laws presented in the case. And, the jury would be one located in Marshall, Texas, which has the reputation of being very favorable for plaintiffs.

On April 16th, we started trial confident in our position, but concerned about our ability to communicate it in a very short period to a jury with almost no technical experience. Facing us was Trilogy’s damage claim of $49m – with the possibility of treble damages, attorneys fees and interest.

After six days of testimony and evidence, the jury returned its verdict – finding completely in favor of Sun on all claims. The jury even determined that Trilogy’s patents were invalid, which should be wonderful news to others facing suit by Trilogy.

I’ve been asked how we were able to achieve such a overwhelming result. In short, the answer is “talent”. This isn’t meant as braggadocio, but rather a reflection of a team of skilled and focused attorneys led by Sun’s Chief IP Counsel, Noreen Krall, and Jeff Randall of Skadden, Arps. Throughout the litigation, they continued to adapt to the challenges of new issues and facts, but always maintained conviction in their view that Sun should prevail. To both of them and the rest of the team – a big “thanks”.

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In No Particular Order…

I haven’t written in a while, so here’s a bit of “catch up”:

-I enjoyed my first ride in a Tesla (thanks, Steve). It’s a beautiful looking vehicle with performance like this. Once the price drops and they deliver a sedan model, I will be ready to plug one into the home solar system.

-I also had my deposition taken in the NetApp litigation. Evidently, the folks at NetApp are not big fans of my blog. (I’m trying not to take it personally.)

-Jonathan has written an interesting series of posts about the future of enterprise computing (and Sun’s direction as well). Well worth a read.

-A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak at an IP conference at Howard University School of Law. Although I wasn’t able to attend the entire session, I did get the chance to listen to Victoria Hall’s presentation about Jacobsen v. Katzer. At issue in that case (in which Ms. Hall represents the plaintiff) is whether the terms of an open source license constitute a “covenant” or “condition”. If the former, then the defendant’s actions would be viewed as a breach of contract for which the remedy would be damages – difficult to prove in the context of an open source license. If the latter, the plaintiff would be entitled to statutory damages and injunctive relief for copyright infringement. The case was initially decided in favor of the plaintiff, but is currently on appeal. It’s obviously a case of interest to many in the open source community.

-The debate over FAS 5 continues. Sun along with 134 other companies has joined the ACC in objecting to proposed amendments to FAS 5. You can find out more here.

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A Better Flow of Data – Storage and Conference Calls

We recently held one of our regular department update calls that included as a guest speaker the Lead Technologist responsible for driving flash memory across Sun’s product portfolio. Truly fascinating stuff. In his presentation, he illustrated how storage technology has not kept pace with advances in servers (especially multi-core systems). The result is that today’s systems spend significant time “waiting” for data to be accessed from storage and insuring that it is not altered or corrupted.

Although flash technology has been around for years ( think of your cellphone or camera), it has only now developed to the point that it can be used in servers. The result is a system that is faster, but uses significantly less energy. (There are also no moving parts as with traditional disk drives.)

But it is not just advances in flash technology that enable this shift in server design. It also requires an operating system that is able to recognize and manage different types of storage (e.g. flash, tape, disk). That’s the beauty of the Solaris operating system with its ZFS file system – that, and the fact that it’s open source.

The presentation caused me to think about a human analog to the same problem of data flow. One that was right before me – our conference call. It’s purpose is to provide a quick and effective flow of information (i.e. data) to employees located in differing time zones around the world. We rely on technology – in our case, a live conference call using a WebEx interface – but technology alone is not the answer. At some point it comes down to changing human behavior. As a test, I periodically listen to the recorded version of our calls so that I can have the same experience as an export person in Germany or an attorney in China. It can be painful to listen. Some calls don’t begin promptly, people speak over one another, there are distracting noises and unidentified speakers. The result is that those dialing in are likely to tune out or worse yet, hang up and that important information is never received.

So, while we are solving the problem of data flow in the technology world, the human element requires much more continuous work. In that vein, I found this to be a pretty good start. It’s excerpted (with thanks) from Management for the Rest of Us.

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Conference Call Tips

Do get comfortable with the fact you will be talking in front of a group and receiving no visual cues or feedback.

Do use the right phone in a quiet, undisturbed room.

Don’t use cell phones or phones that pick up background noise. Calling from an open plan office is the equivalent of having a conversation in a nightclub. If you really can’t find a quiet room, use the mute button until you are required to speak.

Do learn to use the mute button and other phone technology to avoid a Homer Simpson style “Doh” moment. Your intelligent contributions mean nothing if no one can hear them.

Do set up the meeting in advance and communicate the dial in number, passcodes and other information. “Spring forward, fall back” is something to keep in mind for your timezone crossing colleagues. Don’t work out time differences on your fingers – check on the internet or even phone a colleague in that country and ask what time it is!

Do start the meeting absolutely on time; don’t reward latecomers’ bad behaviour by waiting for them. Take a role call at the start of the meeting, highlighting the missing attendees. Go on, get tough, people will love you for it!

Do treat the conference call as if it were a meeting. You know the routine; prepare and circulate an agenda, take notes ya-de-ya-de-ya.

Do get each caller to say hello and introduce themselves. Even though you may never meet in person, it’s a good relationship builder and gets the shyest of people to at least say their name.

Don’t assume everyone recognises your voice. Unless you are dis-respecting the boss and want to stay incognito, say your name before you speak. This is particularly important for the poor soul taking meeting notes.

Do make use of guest speakers. Invite a special or important guest and get them to say a few words at the beginning of the meeting. No one will know they slipped out after five minutes and you’ll get the benefit of undivided attention and best behaviour.

Don’t allow the topic to wander. Be an iron fist in a velvet glove – polite but firm if people talk too long or over each other. If your callers are at home sitting in their pyjamas nursing a hot chocolate, be considerate that all they want is to go to bed.

Do ask for input by using a person’s name. People will pay more attention to avoid the embarrassment of needing the question repeated.

Don’t shuffle papers; scrape chairs, pencil tap, hum or other distracting, noisy activities. It…….drives…………people…………mad!

Do close the meeting formally, thanking everybody for their time. That little bit of recognition will make them feel good about talking to you again.”

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Starting the year on a high note

…thanks to the Higher Keys.

Our legal and compliance team was fortunate to begin the New Year with a visit from the Higher Keys, an a cappella group consisting of eighteen amazingly gifted students from Brown University. While the break area of the Sun Microsystems Legal Department may not be the preferred venue for most of their performances, I doubt they have had a more appreciative audience.

I’m sorry those of you outside the Bay Area could not join us for the performance. But, here’s a chance to enjoy it by video.

You’re likely wondering how we managed to get such a group of accomplished entertainers to perform for us. Let’s just say it helps when one of them has a very proud father who works in the Sun Legal Department.

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A Holiday Gift

I’m sure many of you spent the month of December looking for something significant for that special GC in your life. Well, you can forget about the wine, chocolate and fruit baskets. Last week, the justices of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit provided the perfect gift for GCs of companies facing increased litigation with patent trolls. It came in the form of a decision in the case of In Re TS Tech USA. (A PDF of the ruling is here.) This decision increases the likelihood that courts will grant requests for a change in venue in well known “plaintiff friendly” jurisdictions.

It’s a nice way to begin the year. Although, on reflection, a good bottle of wine is always appreciated.

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“Stumbling”

I travel a fair amount. And, I’m an insomniac. It’s not an ideal combination. Often, I find myself in a hotel room in another country still awake in the early a.m. having finished all the books I’ve carried with me. Jet lag, work stress and unfamiliar surroundings are not conducive to a good night’s sleep. (Bill Murray nailed the feeling in “Lost in Translation”.)

For a time, I would spend those nocturnal hours watching YouTube videos or randomly searching websites for something of interest. The results were usually little more captivating than the rerun of McCloud (dubbed in German) that I watched during my last trip to Munich. As Ian Hurt once said, “There’s a statistical theory that if you gave a million monkeys typewriters and set them to work, they’d eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. Thanks to the Internet, we now know this isn’t true.”

Recently, I installed StumbleUpon and it’s greatly improved my web-surfing experience. It’s a free download that employs a personal preference system for websites similar to what NetFlix uses for DVDs and Amazon for books. It’s both effective and addictive.

Here are some examples of what I “stumbled upon” during a recent trip:

– A “smack” of jellyfish – who knew?

– Instruction on how to convert my motorcycle to electric.

U.S. electoral maps (where was this when I took polysci)?

– Interesting “art”.

– Incredible photographs of space.

– The opportunity to brush up on my Latin.

– An excellent atlas using maps and satellite photography.

And, of course, you never know when you will need a bacon flowchart.

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