Jonathan Schwartz: How to play patent games with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates

Jonathan Schwartz: How to play patent games with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates

Summary: Former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz chimed in on patent lawsuits, threats from the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and how to manage a staredown properly.

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Former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz chimed in on patent lawsuits, threats from the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and how to manage a staredown properly.

Schwartz on his blog outlined the patent lawsuit showdowns he's run into. Exhibit A: Apple chief Steve Jobs:

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.

And then there's the run-in with Microsoft's Gates, who makes a nice exhibit B on patent lawsuit strategy. Schwartz writes:

As we sat down in our Menlo Park conference room, Bill skipped the small talk, and went straight to the point, “Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.” OpenOffice is a free office productivity suite found on tens of millions of desktops worldwide. It’s a tremendous brand ambassador for its owner – it also limits the appeal of Microsoft Office to businesses and those forced to pirate it. Bill was delivering a slightly more sophisticated variant of the threat Steve had made, but he had a different solution in mind. “We’re happy to get you under license.” That was code for “We’ll go away if you pay us a royalty for every download” – the digital version of a protection racket...

Schwartz said Sun was prepared for Gates.

So when they created their web application platform, .NET, it was obvious their designers had been staring at Java – which was exactly my retort. “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?” Bill explained the software business was all about building variable revenue streams from a fixed engineering cost base, so royalties didn’t fit with their model… which is to say, it was a short meeting.

What can we learn from Schwartz? A few lessons:

  • If you have patents you have an arsenal to discourage claims and lawsuits. That's why Apple is suing HTC and not Palm or Motorola.
  • You have to be prepared with some bluster of your own.
  • You can't be bullied by larger players.

The one thing where Schwartz runs off the rails is this comment:

Suing a competitor typically makes them more relevant, not less. Developers I know aren’t getting less interested in Google’s Android platform, they’re getting more interested – Apple’s actions are enhancing that interest.

Sun was sued numerous times – most big companies are sued almost constantly by entities or actors whose sole focus is suing others.

Now it's quite possible that Android will get developers to rally around it. But the Sun analogy falls a bit flat. Sun lost relevance a little bit at a time---intellectual property portfolio be damned.

Related: Apple's HTC lawsuit pays off: Rival roadmaps disrupted

Apple's HTC patent suit: Can it derail Google's Android devices?

Topics: Oracle, Apple, Enterprise Software, Legal

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20 comments
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  • Schwartz's opinions?

    How about advice on how to lose your company? Ooops sorry merge...
    tonymcs@...
  • DOJ must investigate M$ and Apple

    their evil leaders are stunning progress.
    Linux Geek
    • All Power to the FLOSSheviks!!

      Bow to down to centrally planned software repository. Chariman Stallman and his minions demand it! All power flows from the barrel of litigation not innovation. You freetards will always will be rough and sh!tty approximation of what incentivized innovation creates.
      Gnutella
      • And use Denal FOSS!! (nt)

        .
        Lester Young
    • I agree wholeheartedly ...

      ... that the DOJ should investigate Apple. How they manage to get away with what they do is beyond me.

      But regarding Microsoft: the DOJ already investigated, tried and punished Microsoft for their anti-competitive behavior - I'm kinda surprised you missed it - it was quite the ho-down. FWIW, Microsoft has operated for the last 7 years under DOJ oversight and have completely changed their business practices so that they no longer infringe on the law.

      Oh ... and the EU also investigated and punished Microsoft too.

      I think they paid their price for their anti-compatitive bahavior; time to move on.
      de-void-21165590650301806002836337787023
    • No, but it's time to look at the FSF.

      ;-)
      No_Ax_to_Grind
  • Sure. Look at where MS is, and where Sun is

    And even Apple vs Sun for that matter.

    Who controlled who in those meetings, I wonder...
    AllKnowingAllSeeing
  • SUN did their share of lawsuits too...

    like their JAVA one to Microsoft...
    Roque Mocan
  • All hearsay from a guy who's lost relevance...

    hard to verify.
    Gnutella
  • FWIW

    I think they should all sue each other six ways from Sunday so people would know once and for all who owns what IP. Then maybe the US patent office might have to get its act together and do patents right.

    Also, who knows, maybe the players might note that there was the possibility that they can recoup some of their legal expenses of the battle by getting money back from the USPTO for their approval of what looks like to be a raft of improperly assigned patents.

    Cry havoc and let loose the lawyers!
    zkiwi
    • I'd love to see it.

      It would be the MAD scenario for software patents. All those patent portfolios turning to dust because everybody's ideas are derived from someone else's.
      Lester Young
  • RE: Jonathan Schwartz: How to play patent games with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates

    For all his attempts to paint Apple and Microsoft as patent
    trolls, are we REALLY to believe that Sun never rattled its
    sabre to defend its mountain of patents while Schwartz
    was running things?

    Seriously? No wonder he was fired.

    I'm sure people can point to some positive things that he
    did at the helm of Sun, but it is undeniable that under his
    leadership the company floundered commercial, waste the
    billions it received from Microsoft in settlements (some for
    patent cross-licensing if memory serves...), and was left so
    bereft of direction that it had to sell to Oracle.
    QuietAmerican
  • Another piece of evidence - as if more were needed ! -

    that present patent practices stifle rather than encourage innovation. But they do succeed in assuring lawyers' rather good livelihoods....

    Henri
    mhenriday
  • Attention Jonathan, Bill Gates has been retired for some time now.

    Hasn't had anything to do with patent suits in years. Perhaps you should update your views and base them on something recent.

    Oh wait, I forgot about your Bill gates envy...
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Bill Gates has retired...

      Just because the Pope dies, and there is a new one doesn't mean the religion changes.
      Lawsuits are the main ingredient of too many companies, the products just give them a legal base.
      robertcape@...
  • Not sure what logic the last two sentences is based on

    "Now it?s quite possible that Android will get developers to rally around it. But the Sun analogy falls a bit flat. Sun lost relevance a little bit at a time?intellectual property portfolio be damned."

    Are you saying that according to Schwartz, they shouldn't have lost relevance because they were constantly sued and therefore should've gained relevance instead of losing it? Did he claim somewhere that litigation is the only way to gain or lose relevance or that a crapload of patents will ensure relevance?

    Isn't that stretching his analogy a bit?
    jlongino@...
  • The biggest thieves are the biggest screamers of "Thou shall not steal."

    Is it very funny or sad?

    Will you let them go?
    Just True
  • RE: Jonathan Schwartz: How to play patent games with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates

    I think these series of law suits are just an indication of fear of market displacement.
    George Iyke
  • RE: Jonathan Schwartz: How to play patent games with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates

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