Former Sun CEO Takes Tech Titans to Task Over Patent Trolling

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 10, 2010

Former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz only recently announced his departure from Oracle, following its acquisition of Sun, via a quirky haiku posted on Twitter, and now he is providing juicy details of his historical run-ins with technology heavyweights. Schwartz was always well-known as a blogger during his tenure at Sun, and he now writes on a blog titled "What I Couldn't Say..." Among other things, he details crossing paths with both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates regarding patents and royalties.

In a blog post called "Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal," Schwartz makes reference to the Apple/HTC lawsuit and notes that Steve Jobs threatened to sue Sun at one point. He writes:

"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, [Jobs said] '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."

According to Schwartz, Steve "was silent" after that rebuttal. Schwartz goes on to detail a meeting he was in with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer from Microsoft, in which Gates "skipped the small talk" and said:

“Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.”

OpenOffice, of course, is a free open source office productivity suite found on millions of desktops, and Gates and Ballmer were apparently seeking a licensing deal with Sun, which would effectively result in a payment to Microsoft for every download of OpenOffice. Schwartz writes:

"Royalty bearing free software? Jumbo shrimp. (Oxymoron.)"

Schwartz's post contains much wisdom about patents and going on the offensive with them. Good reading.