Calgary firm’s patent may have big impact

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

Calgary-based EAI software vendor Teilhard Technologies recently announced 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.

As Teilhard CEO Ken Prather told ComputerWorld 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 for distributing and combining data among databases.

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

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, and the data is then written to the target repository where it is ready to be used.

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

Prather admitted that the long-term ramifications and enforceability of 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 who are currently 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 also 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.

In the short term, vendors providing ETL will likely have to check to see if they are infringing on Teilhard’s patent, 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 Software Corp. and SAS, but also a variety of file systems and data warehousing solutions.

Vendors that offer bundled ETL systems include Microsoft Corp, 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, Ascential and Toronto-based Hummingbird Ltd. Although both were contacted, officials at Microsoft Canada Co. and SAS Canada both declined to comment on the issue.

However, Teilhard’s patent is not likely to greatly affect EAI vendors, Craggs added.

“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.

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

At least one Teilhard customer has already set his 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 on the validity of the patent, Law said.

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