EAI vendor secures ETL patent

How a new enterprise application integration patent potentially affects the US$70 billion EAI market remains to be seen, industry experts say.

Calgary-based EAI software vendor Teilhard Technologies announced last week that it has acquired the U.S. and Canada patents for its JuxtaComm platform — a system for transforming and exchanging data between heterogeneous computer systems and programs.

The U.S. patent was granted February 2001 and the Canadian patent this January.

As Teilhard CEO Ken Prather told IT World Canada, the patented process includes the extract, transform, and load (ETL) integration process associated with its JuxtaComm Integration Platform technology. The patent covers Teilhard’s data integration functionality method for distributing and combining data among databases.

EAI software allows disparate applications to interoperate by exchanging data and functionality. Enterprises largely use ETL technology to read data from its source, clean it up and format it uniformly which is then written to the target repository to be exploited.

Specifically, the patents cover the concept of converting source file information into a meta-data form which is independent of the source format. David Brown, CIO for Teilhard said the JuxtaComm platform extracts data from databases, legacy systems, flat files, applications and MQSeries queues without having to develop in-house software.

Prather admitted that the long-term ramifications and enforceability surrounding the patent have yet to unfurl. But he said Teilhard has already begun to pursue licensing agreements with software development companies, systems integrators and VARs using this particular ETL method of integration in their practices. A North American marketing strategy to offer the use of Teilhard’s intellectual property, technology and products to both the public and private sectors is currently underway, Prather said.

The ETL technique used by Teilhard seems so fundamental to modern ETL solutions that it would be hard for vendors potentially affected by a patent to adopt another technical approach. Indeed, any effect on the industry would likely only centre around the ETL marketplace, said Steve Craggs, an EAI analyst for Saint Consulting Ltd. in Hampshire, U.K.

Overall, this patent is not likely to affect EAI vendors too much, Craggs said.

“EAI vendors deal with messages created and sent dynamically between applications rather than file interfaces. Although the patent claims to also be applicable to messages, most EAI vendors are unlikely to use the identical technique and indeed some of the major vendors such as IBM have their own patents to protect them,” Craggs said.

The big question is how this might affect ETL end users. Craggs noted that since this technique has become quite common with the advent of XML, there is the possibility that end users could be ordered to stop using the technique. End users affected are likely to press vendors to license the technology for their use or even negotiate directly with the patent owner to ensure they are not exposed to any risk of legal action, he said.

At least one Teilhard end user has already set contingency plans in motion. According to John Law, CIO with the Province of Saskatchewan, the province has already reviewed the patent and has drafted a policy that will ensure that any potential supplier to the province is aware of it.

“We have incorporated the following clauses as part of the indemnification sections of our RFP and tender documentation in recognition of the JuxtaComm patent for Government of Saskatchewan IT and related services,” Law said.

The province is also currently requesting a legal opinion from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on the validity of the patent, Law said, adding that pending a response, the province may revise the policy as needed.

The effect on vendors providing ETL capabilities is likely to be that they will have to check to see if they are infringing and if so, agree on some sort of licensing deal with the patent owner, Craggs said. This not only covers direct ETL vendors such as Ascential, but also file systems and data warehousing solutions, such as Microsoft’s DTS capability which is found in SQL Server.

But the actual enforceability of an ETL software patent would depend on the uniqueness of the way the software does ETL, not on the fact that it does ETL, said Warren Shiau, a software analyst for IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

Industry observers note that established ETL vendors are contending with database vendors for market share. The big trend within the market are the major database vendors — Oracle Corp., IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., and Sybase Inc. — have added or are adding data transformation functionality to their database offerings. The news potentially means that ETL as a stand-alone pureplay market is under threat, Shiau said.

Vendors that offer bundled ETL systems include Microsoft, which offers data transformation services bundled with its SQL Server database. Oracle Corp. has limited ETL capabilities embedded in its database, and IBM Corp, offers a DB2 Information Integrator component for its warehouse offerings. Third-party vendors that provide bolt-on ETL tools include Informatica, data integration vendor Ascential Software Corp. and Toronto-based Hummingbird Ltd.

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