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IBM files IP lawsuit against mainframe migration firm

Claims shell company formed to license mainframe products for reverse engineering

IBM is taking legal action against LzLabs, a company specializing in mainframe modernization services, claiming that it has violated IBM's intellectual property rights in relation to its mainframe technology.

In a statement, IBM said that LzLabs had deliberately misappropriated IBM trade secrets by reverse engineering, reverse compiling, and translating its mainframe software. The case has been filed in the US District Court in Waco, Texas.

LzLabs provides a platform called Software Defined Mainframe (SDM) that is designed to allow IBM mainframe users to migrate their mission-critical applications to a modern platform – typically a cluster of x86 servers – without having to modify the applications or the associated data.

Customers listed on its website include Rogers Communications, MAN Truck & Bus, and Swiss telco Swisscom, the latter of which The Register has previously covered in some detail, showing that its technology does indeed appear to deliver on its promises.

According to the Waco court filing [PDF], IBM asserts that LzLabs set up a shell company, Winsopia, to license IBM mainframe software from IBM UK, and the sole purpose of this was so it could reverse engineer the software in order to develop its own product, SDM. IBM claims that LzLabs markets this as a plug-and-play replacement for the very IBM products that, so the allegation goes, it deceitfully obtained.

The patents Big Blue claims LzLabs infringed include two that "describe methods embodied in IBM mainframe instructions that LzLabs must emulate with or tranlsate into Intel x86 instructions"; two that detail methods of increasing emulation/ translation efficiency... "to achieve optimized performance objectives"; and one concernings the "translation of IBM mainframe applications wherein IBM programs called by those applications are identified and an x86 substituted for each".

Reverse engineering a product can be a legitimate approach to creating compatible third-party offerings, but many companies take a dim view of the practice and often forbid it as a condition of licensing their product. In this case, IBM contends that LzLabs set up a separate entity for the sole purpose of concealing that it was doing this.

IBM goes further, and claims that some of the individuals behind LzLabs already have form when it comes to illicit reverse engineering of IBM's mainframe technology.

The court filing states that entrepreneur John Moore previously owned Neon Enterprise Software, which was run by his long-time business associate Thilo Rockman. Neon ES developed a product that enabled customers to offload processing from the standard IBM mainframe processors, thus reducing the fees customers owed to IBM for running its software. This required modifications to the mainframe systems that were a direct violation of customer contracts with IBM, the firm said.

This resulted in an earlier court case, which ended with Neon having to cease distribution of some software products and certain key employees being banned from reverse engineering, reverse compiling or translating specific IBM software.

IBM said that in its current court action it is seeking relief that includes an injunction against LzLabs to prevent further unlawful use of IBM's intellectual property and trade secrets.

We asked LzLabs to comment, and will update the article if it responds. ®

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