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Vixel scores Fibre Channel patent

Bothell, Wash.-based Vixel Corp., has been awarded a U.S. patent relating to its private Fibre Channel loop switching technology. While Vixel maintains that they have no intentions of "upsetting the apple-cart," one analyst says that the patent may come into play in the near future.

"This appears to be a very broad based patent that theoretically could effect everyone who does loop switching," said Steve Duplessie, senior analyst for the Enterprise Storage Group. "Vixel is stating that it has no interest in attacking competitors who use the technology, instead it views itself as a friendly ally propagating the Fibre Channel mission."

But Duplessie predicts that Vixel's neutral stance may change down the road. "A couple more disappointing quarters and I'd be willing to bet that if this patent has any teeth at all, Vixel will be knocking on doors demanding license royalties, or they will be suing all their competitors," Duplessie said.

U.S. Patent No. 6,118,776, entitled "Methods and Apparatus for Fibre Channel Interconnection of Private Loop Devices," defines a number of ways to interconnect private loop devices with a Fibre Channel switch.

"The technology was conceived by the requirement of end users to maintain the simplicity of the loop and at the same time enjoy the benefits of switch functions," commented Stuart Berman, Vixel's Chief Technology Officer and the patent's author. "The patent defines ways to interconnect devices through a switch without the complexities of full fabric services support. Because of the simplicity of interconnection that this technology provides, private loop switching is utilized in a majority of both new and existing Storage Area Network (SAN) installations."

Vixel's director of technical marketing and co-chair of the Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA) Interoperability Committee, Tom Clark, said that Vixel is proud of its intellectual property and the recognition that being a pioneer in a challenging SAN solution brings to Vixel. "Obviously, since we invented the technology, our implementation is more reliable, stable and field-tested than any other product."

"It's not our company's intention to interrupt any supply chains," said Ed Luboja, Vixel's director of marketing and communications. "The Fibre Channel industry is our life blood."

Luboja said that the announcement was released more as a matter of record than it was to gain attention for Vixel. "Of course it's our management's responsibility to protect our intellectual property," he said. "Nobody's looking to upset the apple cart here."

Duplessie concluded that while Vixel may enforce their patent down the road, winning the patent was a positive step for the company. "It's nothing but good news for Vixel, who could use it."

Comment on this story? E-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

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