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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 akugami on 3/11/2010 1:38:12 PM , Rating: 1
I don't see how you can call Steve Jobs a scumbag and let the other CEO's in the article slide. Cause reading the article, similar shenanigans was coming from MS's top brass (Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer). And over the years, we have a lot of examples of MS using questionable (from an ethics standpoint) tactics as well as using their influence to kill off or hinder competitors. Not that Apple hasn't done the same mind you.

I'm not saying the actions of Jobs is in any way justifiable unless another company did infringe on actual patents and not the vague shit the patent office rubber stamps. The real issue is the vague BS patents that are granted and then companies inevitably become patent trolls cause they can't produce crap that will sell.

Love Apple or hate Apple, they have done a lot for the computer industry. If we were totally honest and get over our "Apple is teh sucks" rant that some of the folks here get upvoted for, we can honestly see that they have helped advanced computing in many ways. Their strengths are not in new inventions but putting it all together in one smooth package.

Take the GUI. Yes, many of the base parts were invented at Xerox's PARC. However, Xerox mismanaged their brilliant engineers and didn't do crap with a lot of their inventions. Before the Apple haters say "Apple stole Xerox's inventions" yet again, it needs to be said that Apple paid to use those patents. Yes, paid. It was in the form of pre-IPO stock options. Apple obtained permission from Xerox's top brass to visit PARC and look at the work being done on GUI's by PARC researchers with the idea that Apple would use it to create a new product. Apple also enhanced the GUI prototype to a large degree with concepts and inventions such as the Finder and the biggy IMHO, Drag and Drop. Many of the concepts invented at Apple to enhance the GUI were stolen by Microsoft.

And before the iPhone OS, most smartphones were barely usable (yes, I'm looking at you Nokia and Microsoft). Every smartphone after it has almost been an iPhone clone (from a GUI perspective).

We can hate Steve Jobs for a lot of stuff and we can also decry a lot of his actions while running companies while a CEO but he's undeniably successful and in many ways a brilliant businessman.

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