Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's CEO who left when Oracle bought the company, has started a blog called What I Couldn't Say. He promises revelations from behind the corporate firewall from his time running Sun, and one of his first posts certainly delivers.
It begins: "I feel for Google - Steve Jobs threatened to sue me, too."
Under the title "Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal" - a quote used by Steve Jobs - Schwartz reveals that both Apple and Microsoft threatened to sue Sun over intellectual property used in open source, Apple because of an Sun desktop called Project Looking Glass, and Microsoft over OpenOffice. In both cases, Schwartz relates, Sun retorted with the observation that the other company had products that violated Sun's own patent portfolio, and the threats went away.
In Apple's case, Schwartz said that Steve Jobs claimed that Looking Glass' graphical effects were "stepping all over Apple's IP". Schwartz replied:
“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.
With Microsoft, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer asked for licence fees because "our patents read all over OpenOffice", which Schwartz characterised as "the digital version of a protection racket".
Sun's reply was again to point to Microsoft's own products:
"Microsoft is no stranger to imitating successful products, then leveraging their distribution power to eliminate a competitive threat – from tablet computing to search engines, their inspiration is often obvious (I’m trying to like Bing, I really am). 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."