Remember LA Confidential and Lieutenant Dudley Smith? To slightly misquote him: "David; you're a puzzlement to me." NetApp's EVP appears to have got something wrong.

Here an extract from Jonathan Schwartz' blog: "Sun did not approach NetApps about licensing any of Sun's patents and never filed complaints against NetApps or demanded anything."

This was in rebuttal to a statement on NetApp EVP Dave Hitz' blog: "About 18 months ago, Sun’s lawyers contacted NetApp with a list of patents they say we infringe, and requested that we pay them lots of money."

Now Dave Hitz tries to blow Schwartz' stance out of the water. In his latest blog he quotes a letter from a Sun staffer, Timothy R Schulte, a patent attorney type person involved with StorageTek, dated December 14 2006, to Gary Ross, a senior director of NetApp. It mentions, clearly mentions, that: "over a year and a half ago StorageTek/Sun provided claim charts mapping its patent claims onto NetApp products."

There is no ambiguity here. In mid-year 2005 before the Sun acquisition of StorageTek had completed, StorageTek lawyers sent NetApp a communication concerning payment by NetApp for using patented StorageTek IP.

But he doesn't say which firm, Sun (StorageTek then) or NetApp initiated this correspondence though. And we haven't seen any evidence of a complaint against NetApp by Sun/StorageTek. So there is ambiguity.

This e-mail, from the desk of a Sun/StorageTek lawyer, appears to directly contradict the words of Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz but a close reading makes that interpretation unreliable. When he said 'First, Sun did not approach NetApps about licensing any of Sun's patents and never filed complaints against NetApps or demanded anything', the Schulte e-mail talks of payment from NetApp to Sun of $36.548M. But this is to do with licensing technology. It could be construed as a demand and not discussion of an offer or suggestion but without seeing the rest of the correspondence we can't say Schwartz is wrong.

It also doesn't directly contradict the Schwartz point that Sun did not approach NetApp. Sun certainly discussed things with NetApp but who first approached who is unclear. More ambiguity.

Tantalising stuff but we still can't apply the egg in our hands to the right face: Sun's Schwartz or NetApp's Hitz.

Date line 16.22 BST, 7th September, 2007, from the front line of the CEO Blog wars battlefield, London, UK.

Note. According to this URL Timothy Schulte was a patent attorney for Sun in June this year. He was 'inherited' as a consequence of Sun acquiring StorageTek in autumn 2005.