Former Sun Microsystems CEO: HTC Isn’t the First Company to Face Legal Threats From Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs


Jonathan Schwartz, former CEO of Sun Microsystems, has stepped up to defend Google (in a roundabout way, via HTC) from the patent attacks recently leveled by Apple. If you want to be truly disturbed at how virulent the patent litigation scene is in the tech world, read on.

Sun, which is perhaps best known for its creation of Java, OpenOffice, and its development of the UNIX core, apparently suffered a threat of patent litigation directly from Steve Jobs back in 2003. Schwartz explains that in the tech world, patents are used not just as defenses against intellectual property theft, but as offensive weapons that can eliminate competition if leveled correctly.

In 2003, after I unveiled a prototype Linux desktop called Project Looking Glass, Steve [Jobs] 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.”

Schwartz managed to convince Jobs not to bother suing, as Sun held patents on several aspects of UNIX, on which Mac OS is built, that could be used to great effect in a countersuit. “Steve was silent,” Schwartz writes.

He even describes a similar instance to the altercation with Steve Jobs, in which
Bill Gates attempted to induce a pricey settlement over patent violations–only
to be again stymied when Sun revealed its stacked hand of patents, which
would be used in a countersuit if the need arose.

The post is framed as a motion of solidarity with Google, although interestingly, Schwartz seems to have completely bypassed the implications we’d all been feeling regarding that case. After all, Google isn’t named in the suit at all, and HTC, which is, is by no means limited to Google software–HTC is an OEM which also creates branded hardware running Windows Mobile as well as Android. Of course, as HTC is a renowned Google partner for Android, creating the Nexus One (branded the “Google Phone”) and the upcoming next generation of Android devices, the two are inextricably linked in the public’s mind, to the point where suing HTC feels like suing Google.

Schwartz’s feelings on the Apple-HTC lawsuit are really fascinating, though it’s important to remember that Schwartz has a vested interest as a major stockholder in making Sun seem spotless. But regardless, it’s disheartening to hear about this kind of behind-closed-doors threat session.


About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.