Ex-Sun honcho calls Apple's HTC suit an "act of desperation"

Former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz has only bad things to say about Apple's suit against HTC, calling it an "act of desperation," and saying that when he was heading Sun, he faced down potential suits from both Apple and Microsoft. And he warns that Apple's suit may backfire, stoking interest in the Android platform.

On his "What I Couldn't Say" blog Schwartz says that back in 2003, after Sun unveiled the prototype of a Linux desktop called "Project Looking Glass," Jobs called him, to tell him that its graphical effects "were stepping all over Apple's IP" (intellectual property). Schwartz says Jobs told him if Sun decided to commercialize the project, "I'll just sue you."

Schwartz claimed that he in turn threatened Jobs, warning that it appeared that Apple might have stolen ideas for its Keynote presentation software from a company that Sun purchased. And he says he went on to tell Jobs "And last I checked, MacOS is now built on Unix. I think Sun has a few OS patents, too." Jobs, he said, answered with silence.

Schwartz claimed he faced down a similar threat from Microsoft. He claims that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer met with Sun, and claimed that OpenOffice infringed on Microsoft patents for Microsoft Office. Sun in turn said that .NET infringed on Java, and hinted Sun would countersue over that.

As with Apple, no suits were filed.

Schwartz says that for technology companies, owning patents may be a form of defense more than anything -- ensuring that other companies won't sue, because they would be sued in turn. He says this:

I understand the value of patents -- offensively and, more importantly, for defensive purposes. Sun had a treasure trove of some of the internet’s most valuable patents -– ranging from search to microelectronics -- so no one in the technology industry could come after us without fearing an expensive counter assault. And there's no defense like an obvious offense.

He then calls the Apple suit an act of desperation and warns that it may backfire by stoking interest in the Android platform:

But for a technology company, going on offense with software patents seems like an act of desperation, relying on the courts instead of the marketplace. See Nokia's suit against Apple for a parallel example of frivolous litigation -- it hasn’t slowed iPhone momentum (I'd argue it accelerated it). So I wonder who will be first to claim Apple’s iPad is stepping on their IP… perhaps those that own the carcass of the tablet computing pioneer Go Corp.? Except that would be AT&T. Hm.

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.

Apple is the premier tech design company -- no one comes close to it. It would do well to stick with what it does best -- creating superb products -- and leave legal muggings to someone else.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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