Former Sun CEO: Tech Companies Suing Over Patents Is An Act Of Desperation

from the indeed dept

Three years ago, after one of Microsoft's regular bursts of FUD claiming that Linux violated all sorts of Microsoft patents, then CEO of Sun, Jonathan Schwartz, wrote up a brilliant post knocking Microsoft down a peg by repeating a line we've said many times here ourselves: real innovative companies innovate, not litigate. Now, following Apple's patent offensive against HTC, and unencumbered of corporate responsibilities, Schwartz is sharing a bit more detail on his views over patents (found via Mathew Ingram).

Schwartz tells the story of Steve Jobs calling him and threatening Sun with a patent infringement lawsuit, to which Schwartz quickly warned Jobs that going down that path would lead to a patent nuclear war, as he pointed out how recent Apple products likely infringed on Sun patents. He then tells another story about a visit from Bill Gates, with a similar threat over patents -- and a similar response, pointing out that Microsoft clearly copied certain Sun technology. In both cases, the counterweight made the threats go away. This is the whole "nuclear stockpiling" scenario -- and, as such, it creates a ton of waste. You have to keep building up those stockpiles just to make sure the other side is too scared to sue you.

But the key point is made after this, where Schwartz again makes a statement quite similar to ones we've made when a big tech company suddenly goes on the patent offensive. It's a canary-in-the-coalmine sign that something is wrong:
For a technology company, going on offense with software patents seems like an act of desperation, relying on the courts instead of the marketplace.
He also highlights how these lawsuits can backfire in a big, big way:
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.
Indeed. It's a point that still seems missed by so many when discussing these patent lawsuits.
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Filed Under: jonathan schwartz
Companies: apple, microsoft, sun


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  1. identicon
    ckoning, 10 Mar 2010 @ 4:01pm

    Oversight vs. Dismissal

    It's a point that still seems missed by so many when discussing these patent lawsuits.
    The point is more frequently dismissed than missed. The idea that litigating hurts brand image while promoting a product or service that is so competitive as to make the expense and time worthwhile runs counter to the notion that a lawsuit will make the offering disappear or pay licensing fees. The common conception seems to be that the increase in purchase, subscription or other revenue resulting from a favorable judgement will far outweigh the less measurable loss in reputation and short term market share. It would be nice to see some studies done on this topic, as there surely is enough data over the last decade to draw meaningful conclusions on the issue.

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