Former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz on Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and patent litigation

Tue, Mar 9, 2010

Legal, News

A great read from former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz on his experiences dealing with the prospect of patent litigation with the likes of Apple and Microsoft. Here’s what he had to say about dealing with Steve Jobs.

I feel for Google – Steve Jobs threatened to sue me, too.

In 2003, after I unveiled a prototype Linux desktop called Project Looking Glass*, Steve called my office to let me know the graphical effects were “stepping all over Apple’s IP.” (IP = Intellectual Property = patents, trademarks and copyrights.) If we moved forward to commercialize it, “I’ll just sue you.”

My response was simple. “Steve, I was just watching your last presentation, and Keynote looks identical to Concurrence – do you own that IP?” Concurrence was a presentation product built by Lighthouse Design, a company I’d help to found and which Sun acquired in 1996. Lighthouse built applications for NeXTSTEP, the Unix based operating system whose core would become the foundation for all Mac products after Apple acquired NeXT in 1996. Steve had used Concurrence for years, and as Apple built their own presentation tool, it was obvious where they’d found inspiration. “And last I checked, MacOS is now built on Unix. I think Sun has a few OS patents, too.” Steve was silent.

Overall, Schwartz argues that patent litigation is ultimately counter productive in that it actually works to strengthen the competition, not weaken it. Oddly enough, he concludes with a story about Sun having to pay Kodak over $100 million dollars for patent infringement.

As the former CEO of a larger tech company, Schwartz provides a unique perspective on some of the behind the scenes maneuvering that often precedes an actual patent lawsuit. It’s well worth a read.


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