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Apple and its CEO, Steve Jobs, have a history of bullying people says former Sun CEO.  (Source: Getty Images)
Apple CEO Steven P. Jobs : "I’ll just sue you."

Faced with the growing threat of the Android army of smartphones to its best-selling iPhone, Apple unleashed a litany of litigation to try to stop sales of the phones.  Google is too powerful to attack head on, so instead Apple is trying to pick off the hardware makers, starting with HTC, makers of the Hero, MyTouch, and Nexus One.  There are a lot of questions over whether Apple's barking up the wrong tree, however, given how broad and vague its patents seem.

Jonathan I. Schwartz, former CEO of Sun Microsystems, sounded off in a blog in which he recalls a similar incident in which Apple CEO Steven P. Jobs threatened to sue his company.  

The event occurred back in 2003.  Sun Microsystems had just unveiled "Project Looking Glass", a prototype Linux desktop with a rich 3D graphical desktop environment – Apple wasn't happy about that.

Jobs contact Schwartz, warning that the Linux project was "stepping all over Apple’s IP" and that if they put it out on the market, "I’ll just sue you."

However, Schwartz was wily and knew how to fight back.  He had helped found Lighthouse Design, which made software for the short-lived NeXTSTEP operating system, which was acquired by Apple with the purchase of NeXT in 1996.  A Lighthouse NeXT product, Concurrency (presentation software -- think PowerPoint), looked eerily similar to Apple's recently unveiled Keynote.

So Schwartz fired back at Jobs, "Steve, I was just watching your last presentation, and Keynote looks identical to Concurrence – do you own that IP?  And last I checked, MacOS is now built on Unix. I think Sun has a few OS patents, too."

Jobs was quiet and never threatened Schwartz about the product again.

He notes that Jobs isn't the only litigation bully in the tech industry, though.  He recalls an exchange in a later meeting with former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and current CEO Steve Ballmer, about OpenOffice, a popular Sun product.  In the meeting Gates threatened, "Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.  We’re happy to get you under license."

Recalls Schwartz, "That was code for 'We’ll go away if you pay us a royalty for every download' – the digital version of a protection racket.  Royalty bearing free software? Jumbo shrimp. (Oxymoron.)"

Sun countered the threats with comments about the similarity of .NET to patented material in Sun's popular Java platform.  Commented Schwartz, "We’ve looked at .NET, and you’re trampling all over a huge number of Java patents. So what will you pay us for every copy of Windows?"

Again, the threats were dropped.

Schwartz says that big companies trying to bully others with litigation stinks of desperation.  He writes:

I understand the value of patents – offensively and, more importantly, for defensive purposes. Sun had a treasure trove of some of the internet’s most valuable patents – ranging from search to microelectronics – so no one in the technology industry could come after us without fearing an expensive counter assault. And there’s no defense like an obvious offense. 

But for a technology company, going on offense with software patents seems like an act of desperation, relying on the courts instead of the marketplace. See Nokia’s suit against Apple for a parallel example of frivolous litigation – it hasn’t slowed iPhone momentum (I’d argue it accelerated it). So I wonder who will be first to claim Apple’s iPad is stepping on their IP… perhaps those that own the carcass of the tablet computing pioneer Go Corp.? Except that would be AT&T. Hm.

That's some interesting perspective from one of the electronics industry's top players.  It's clear that Apple is bullying HTC; Jobs didn't even give the company so much as a hint before slamming it with a massive lawsuit.  Is Apple's suit against HTC a desperate and misguided measure?  And will Google, who supports HTC, threaten Apple back?  That could get interesting.

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RE: Scumbag
By The0ne on 3/10/2010 9:25:56 AM , Rating: 3
I think we realize it is just not Apple that is doing this, except that they are big and in the news.

RE: Scumbag
By AntiM on 3/10/10, Rating: -1
RE: Scumbag
By mfed3 on 3/10/10, Rating: -1
RE: Scumbag
By StevoLincolnite on 3/10/10, Rating: -1
RE: Scumbag
By crystal clear on 3/10/2010 10:59:35 AM , Rating: 5
fuck you fanboy

Let me do a patent search to check if somebody holds a patent for this.

RE: Scumbag
By bigboxes on 3/10/2010 1:44:42 PM , Rating: 5
What we are witnessing lately is the outing of Apple. They are not the "cool alternative guy" that they depict in their cute TV advertisements. Rather, they are just another suit. Big business at it's ugliest. If you're buying Apple's products to be different you are not. You are just part of the masses that help make different stockholder rich. You think that Jobs "understands you" or cares about you? LOL

RE: Scumbag
By Performance Fanboi on 3/10/2010 3:52:03 PM , Rating: 2
You think that Jobs "understands you" or cares about you? LOL

Well said.

For the Apple fanatics:
It's 'up the highway' not 'across the street'.

RE: Scumbag
By Roffles on 3/10/2010 3:52:22 PM , Rating: 5
I couldn't agree more. The part that troubles me about Apple is that they are buying up small business IP and bringing it into their massive closed system. Because some of this IP has so much leverage against the basic functionality of mobile computing, it's bad for everyone on the business and consumer end.

In my own little perfect world, the following things will happen:

1. Much of Apple's patent portfolio will be judged as too broad and anti competitive and their ability to threaten lawsuits will be greatly diminished.

2. Windows Mobile 7, Maemo and Android (maybe a revamped Blackberry OS?) will slowly chip away at Apple's smart phone market share as new phone models come out over the coming year. This is pretty much a guarantee.

3. The ever evolving hardware/software features of smart phones and tablets will make iPods and other stand alone portable media players redundant and their popularity will diminish. This is also pretty much a guarantee.

4. The popularity of Windows 7 OS will continue to spread like wildfire. The notion of using OS X as an alternative to the dated WinXP or "buggy" Win Vista will cease to exist. Again, it's pretty much a guarantee that the adoption of OS X will slow down.

5. Apple, who understands the importance of being first to market, will have shot itself in the foot by being first to market with the redundant iPad. It will be looked on by reviewers as a disappointment. This is the slow motion train wreck we are watching right now. Furthermore, their head start will be short lived and quickly overshadowed by the MS Courier which looks to offer something unique and worth buying.

6. Apple will make bold, stupid and overpriced moves with its 40B cash reserve and investors will abandon ship.

RE: Scumbag
By ET on 3/11/2010 2:34:52 AM , Rating: 2
True. They're a big business, and they behave like many other big businesses. That's still a big step up from patent trolls that produce nothing and sue everyone for a cut. I'd rather have patents toned down in general, but I hate those leeches who live purely off suing over them far more than I hate the big companies using them to harass others.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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