Apple is currently in the middle of a legal battle with HTC regarding patent infringements relating to the user interface, underlying architecture, and hardware of the iPhone. This week former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz shared his own experiences of Apple litigation and although his did not end in a lengthy legal battle, it certainly provides insight as to what it's like to be on the receiving end of a business call from Steve Jobs.
In a posting on his personal blog, Mr. Schwartz recounts a run in he had with Steve Jobs several years ago. The exchange was in regard to a Linux desktop calling Project Looking Glass.
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, “I’ll just sue you.”
However, Johnson was quick to respond with his own questions about intellectual property.
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.
Project Looking Glass was soon abandoned, though Jonathan says it had nothing to do with Steve Jobs or Apple. He goes on to relay a similar story concerning Open Office, which resulted in a very short meeting with Bill Gates and the crew at Microsoft.
Aside from coming at a time when Apple is suing HTC (many speculate the company is just trying to get at Google in the long run), the entire post raises interesting questions about patents and trademarks. The patent system is one a lot of people believe to be very flawed, and with the news that someone is actually trying to patent the act of patent trolling, who can really blame them?