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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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By Pirks on 3/10/2010 10:40:51 AM , Rating: -1
Very interesting read.

"Top-tier handset makers continued to avoid implementing multi-touch, but Apple could safely assume that they were hanging back to gauge Apple's response to Motorola and HTC. If there wasn't one, the OEMs would likely read the silence as a green light, especially after Google also moved to enable multi-touch on its Nexus One phone.
It was likely in order to counter that perception that Apple began reaching out to handset OEMs in January and explaining in no uncertain terms that it was now ready to do battle–and not just on multi-touch. It was ready to press its case along a number of axes that had made the iPhone experience unique, from the interpretation of touch gestures, to object-oriented OS design, to the nuts and bolts of how hardware elements were built and configured"

So HTC and others were basically prodding Apple and seeing if the dog can bite not just bark. The nice sweet bite they got it seems, hehe ;)

Next interesting point:

"Until recently, most high-end smartphone programs were focused primarily on trying to match the iPhone user experience, and secondarily on avoiding any egregious violations of Apple's patents.
We believe this order of priorities has temporarily changed — along with the industry appreciation for how far Apple is willing to extend the fight. Few OEMs believe that simply staying clear of multi-touch can, on its own, avert Apple wrath. We believe a lot of software and hardware is being sent back to engineering departments for work-arounds.
It's too early to know how Apple legal action against HTC will ultimately play out, or whether Apple will have the appetite to launch additional battles with other OEMs. But
in the near term, Apple's legal actions appear to have temporarily left competitors playing catch-up with their boot laces tied."

I can feel the tremor in HTC HQ with engineers running back and forth and quickly redesigning their iPhone ripoffs just in case, hehe. Apple's lawsuit already started paying back it seems. Smart mofo! Jobs I mean.

Now that's the best part for our sweaty/jumpy Ballmer boy:

"Even before the lawsuit, handset makers were having second thoughts about Google, which with the Nexus One had become a direct competitor. Now their faith in Android as the easiest and cheapest way to counter the iPhone has been shaken, says Reiner. The unintended consequence, he suggests, is to send them into the arms of Microsoft (MSFT) and Win7 Mobile.
Our checks indicate that Microsoft has been quick to sniff out this burgeoning opportunity and has begun to aggressively promote the strength of its own IP portfolio, as well as its willingness to join battle with customers that come under IP attack."

Sweet! Man this is WAY better than Yahoo/Ballmer soap opera. I love this stuff.


"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller














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