Sun head slams patent system

Sun Microsystems has called for reform of the US patent system, with its president and chief operating officer saying authorities are too free to issue patents, some of which were "spurious" and being used to stifle innovation.Jonathan Schwartz told ZDNet Australia  in an interview during a brief visit to Australia this week that while intellectual property constituted "the foundation of global economies", there was also a limit.

Sun Microsystems has called for reform of the US patent system, with its president and chief operating officer saying authorities are too free to issue patents, some of which were "spurious" and being used to stifle innovation.

Jonathan Schwartz told ZDNet Australia  in an interview during a brief visit to Australia this week that while intellectual property constituted "the foundation of global economies", there was also a limit.

"My view on the patent system in the United States is that we are too free to issue patents, so someone can patent one-click shopping, which to me is ridiculous," he said. "That's like patenting scroll-bars".

Schwartz said companies' garnering of "spurious patents" and subsequent wielding of them against innovators threatened the future of smaller companies' abilities to invest in intellectual property. He stressed, however, that such assaults did not really impact on larger players like Sun. "There's nothing in the Kodak suit that is going to threaten our long-run R&D roadmap," he said.

Sun would, he said, continue to build a "good defensive software patent portfolio" to mitigate the threat posed by those with malicious intent. "We'll stop issuing software patents on the day that spurious litigators cease suing us," Schwartz said.

Sun has been in the news lately over patent applications, with Schwartz having filed applications for the company's per-employee software pricing plan and two in relation to the company's three-dimensional Looking Glass user interface. However, Schwartz this week stressed that Sun itself had never issued "offensive patent litigation".

"That's not what we do for a living," he said.

"We choose to use innovation as a competitive weapon, not litigation. And when will we use litigation? When the breach is so severe and so fundamental and so in all likelihood echoed by a government that we choose to step into the fray. So when a contract is breached, you bet we'll get involved in litigation. Thus, what happened with Java. When anticompetitive actions take place in the marketplace, you bet we will be a part of that discussion".

Schwartz said he did not believe that SCO's litigation against had had an impact on the evolution of the open source community: "To me, that's not the path we're going to use to grow a brighter future".

Sun unrepentant over HP UX demise claim
Sun has again thumbed its nose at HP's written appeal to it to "stop publishing misleading and factually incorrect statements" about HP's commitment to its version of Unix.

HP had sent Sun a letter on 28 September attacking its rival for publishing claims HP UX is on the way out, with HP's vice-president of marketing for business critical systems, Don Jenkins, saying "I want our customers to know we're committed to HP UX for the long term".

Sun's chief marketing officer Larry Singer said, however, the materials, which included a blog by Schwartz, would remain unchanged. Sun wrote to HP on 5 October in response to its letter, outlining its justification for its claims in relation to HP UX and saying it would continue to participate in debate on the subject.

Schwartz was unrepentant this week, telling ZDNet Australia  "We've made it very clear that the demise of HP UX and the rise of Solaris is going to be a problem for HP.

"You can't just walk away from your customer base and expect no repercussions.

"I think they probably regret having sent the cease-and-desist letter and then spoken to the media about it because all they did was send about half a million people to my blog around the demise of Hewlett-Packard".

The remarks were not the last jab of the interview by Sun towards HP. Schwartz said Sun had "a growing business in Australia and we think we can keep growing it at the expense of those customers that are walking away from IP.

"HP does not offer its operating system on AMD, so why on earth would an HP customer look to HP for the future of their business? They wouldn't. When HP spends all of its time talking about its new flat-panel televisions, that's not at all comforting to a CIO who wants to know how he's going to deliver business efficiencies to his CEO, wheareas Sun can come in and talk about operating systems on X86, operating systems on Sparc, the evolution of Java, how we'll stand behind our intellectual property and indemnify our customers".

Pricing innovation
Schwartz also pointed to innovation in pricing as being key to Sun Microsystems' growth, but acknowledged the user community would need time to adjust to radical change.

"We think back to the evolution of Java. Was it a novel concept to think that applications could be downloaded over the Internet? Totally. And it revolutionised the industry, but it took about five years. So, when we talk about subscription models for servers or giving the operating system away when you subscribe to hardware, or giving the hardware away when you subscribe to the software, they're absolutely novel concepts, but I think one thing has become evident to us," he said. "In commodity markets there are two forms of innovation that causes businesses to succeed. One of them is raw technology innovation. But the other, and especially what the telecommunications companies do, they understand that innovation is not isolated to technology. It is as much reflected in business models, in pricing models, in calling plans as it is in the underlying technology service".

This, he said, was the sort of approach he was bringing in to Sun Microsystems. While some customers may "resonate" with the idea of a deal based on subscribing to an operating system and taking hardware for free, others would "resonate" with a differently structured plan.

Sun last year launched a new simplified plan for its Java Enterprise System server software, based on an overarching idea that customers should purchase collections of hardware and software already assembled and suited to the task at hand. They should run multiple tasks on those systems to ensure computing capacity does not go unused.

Stephen Shankland contributed to this report