Ex-Sun CEO Schwartz: ‘Jobs Threatened to Sue Me, Too’

| Analysis

Jonathan Schwartz, who was CEO of Sun Microsystems from 2006 until last month, on Tuesday published a blog post that leads off with: “I feel for Google – Steve Jobs threatened to sue me, too.” Why? In 2003, he unveiled Project Looking Glass, a prototype Linux desktop, and Mr. Jobs called to threaten a lawsuit because Sun was “stepping all over Apple’s IP.”

Mr. Schwartz went on to write: “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.”

He said that was the last time he heard from Mr. Jobs regarding the subject - Sun abandoned Project Looking Glass, although Mr. Schwartz said it wasn’t the legal threat, it was the assumption that “the last thing enterprises wanted was a new desktop.” (An assumption he says in hindsight would have been shown to be wrong, if Sun had polled developers, rather than CIOs.)

Mr. Schwartz also contrasted that incident with a later meeting with Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. He recalls Mr. Gates leading off the discussion with: “Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.” However, rather than threaten to sue, Mr. Gates said: “We’re happy to get you under license.” (In other words, have Sun pay a royalty for every download.)

Mr. Schwartz’s counter to that argument? “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?” Mr. Gates replied that royalties didn’t fit into Microsoft’s business model. “It was a short meeting,” Mr. Schwartz quips.

The lesson, according to Mr. Schwartz? “For a technology company, going on offense with software patents seems like an act of desperation, relying on the courts instead of the marketplace … Having watched this movie play out many times, 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.”

Comments

daemon

I lol’ed!

Lee Dronick

“In 2003, he unveiled Project Looking Glass, a prototype Linux desktop, and Mr. Jobs called to threaten a lawsuit because Sun was ?stepping all over Apple?s IP.?

Sounds like Countdown to Looking Glass, but without the nukes.

rtamesis

Spoken like the CEO of a failed company.

geoduck

After the whole Apple/MS “Look and Feel” fiasco I really don’t blame Apple for being aggressive in protecting their IP.

mrmwebmax

+

After the whole Apple/MS ?Look and Feel? fiasco I really don?t blame Apple for being aggressive in protecting their IP.

Well said. And before anyone screams Xerox PARC, I do believe Apple legally and with PARC’s permission licensed their technology for the original Mac OS.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

This is basically like if Schwartz pulled down Jobs’ swim trunks at the beach. Steve Jobs doesn’t understand the game. Unfortunately for Apple and its customers, he’s playing against people who get the game. And he’s in for an ass kicking.

Mike

And, yet, its Xerox that should be suing them all.

xmattingly

Sun abandoned Project Looking Glass, although Mr. Schwartz said it wasn?t the legal threat, it was the assumption that ?the last thing enterprises wanted was a new desktop.?

My Little Pony decided to throw in the gossip ring? Say it isn’t so!

If assumptions are the best marketing efforts of a failed CEO, I can’t say I’d trust him to be a reliable witness on “who owns what” in regard to patents either.

telmec

I think Steve has learnt and he will not do the same mistakes twice. However showing some muscle with a phone call is more efficient (read quicker and cheaper) than a court battle.

Even though court exposure may help some competition , it is important for Apple to vigorously defend their patents more as a principle rather than a point of law.

You do not want to go into an endless law suit defining who owns what but in the same token you have to have a recorded precedent in you favor if you are going to expend in that market. (...)

rd

Was this before or after Steve tried to
buy the Lighthouse applications because
Sun had buried them.

Lighthouse had copied Lotus Improv.
Omni has released exact copy of Diagram!

So Mr. Schwartz doesn’t have a point to stand on.

rtamesis

Xerox did sue Apple and lost. HTC did copy the look and feel of the iPhone with its Nexus One and will lose to Apple.

OS11

Xerox did sue Apple and lost.

Incorrect, Xerox sued Apple but the case was thrown out because the court said Xerox had waited too long.

Khaled

whatever happened to that anyway

Tiger

Let’s examine the timeframe. In 2003, Apple had about 4% marketshare and a company with less than that was about to rip them off.

7 years later, Apple has, on a good day, 8-9% of the marketshare and companies are STILL ripping them off. It’s no wonder Apple is trying to defend it’s IP. It’s all relative.

Sun is a dead company. It’s been a black hole for years drowning in it’s own red ink. They should have sold off or licensed all their IP a decade ago and saved their stockholders major grief.

Khaled

Sun is a dead company. It?s been a black hole

I see what you did there wink

Lee Dronick

Sun is a dead company. It?s been a black hole for years drowning in it?s own red ink.

I am with Khaled, it is a very Shakespearian type of phrase. Well done Tiger.

barryotoole

I do believe Apple legally and with PARC?s permission licensed their technology for the original Mac OS.

Apple didn’t license tech from Xerox, but Xerox didn’t care as it was not interested in making it commercial; it thought this was just not worth it.

However, Apple did develop that GUI and WIMP tech further, and in fact hired away several engineers from PARC who were closely working on these projects. MS, OTH, stole the Mac OS lock, stock and barrel.

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