Storage giants EMC and Hewlett-Packard (HP) traded lawsuits yesterday, indicating that the hotly contested storage market is entering a new phase. It began with HP filing an early morning lawsuit against EMC, alleging that the three of the Massachusetts company's products infringe on seven HP patents. Later in the day, EMC fired off a lawsuit of its own, alleging that HP is infringing on six EMC patents. The bad blood comes just months after the two companies announced an agreement to share storage APIs in a bit to create storage standards and more interoperable products.

"They have directly and egregiously infringed upon seven pieces of our intellectual property that are patent-protected," an HP spokesperson said Monday. "One of the reasons why companies invest in \[intellectual property\] is that it gives them a competitive advantage. It's not cool when a competitor essentially rips you off."

HP's suit revolves around methods for transferring data between two storage hardware devices, using a method that reduces the number of times information must be read and written, which increases performance. The company is asking for unspecified monetary damages and is asking a US District Court in California to block the sale of EMC Symmetrix and CLARiiON devices that use the technology. HP edged EMC as the largest storage company when it merged with Compaq.
 
EMC says that HP is infringing on patents it holds for four EMC products, including Symmetrix and TimeFinder. The company is still reviewing HP's lawsuit and has yet to issue an official response.

From a competitive standpoint, the two companies are issuing statements the likes of which we haven't seen in the computer industry for years. EMC spokesperson Mark Fredrickson told the Boston Globe that HP's suit "smacks of desperation," and "HP is under siege ... in the storage market." HP had some hyperbole of its own. A company spokesperson said, "We compete very hard with EMC, and we're kicking their butt right now."

And on a related note, the HP suit isn't EMC's only patent infringement concern right now. In April, EMC sued drive maker Hitachi for violating several EMC software patents. It's a trend that's likely to continue, says Keith Furman, the Storage Update News and Views Editor at Windows & .NET Magazine. "The storage industry is going through rough times these days and these companies are looking for any competitive edge they can get," Furman told me. "The demand for storage hardware and services has been hit hard by the economy."