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. icon
    Michael (profile), 10 Mar 2010 @ 4:37pm

    Seems to me there is a reflection of this desperation going on in the App store as well.

    The App store apps are getting all cleaned up and pushed to be more focused within in their respective categories, but the problem with that is exactly what's being predicted would happen. Developers are going away from the App store and looking for other platforms where apps aren't always being scrutinized and cut from the revenue stream if they aren't deemed worthy in the eyes of Apple.

    I can see why Apple has taken this position, which is to clean up the ridiculous amounts of worthlessness in the App store. Though the problem with this position is that the App store is being given too much power as a "one stop shop" and not enough social interaction with the apps themselves. I'm going to diverge a little from the topic at hand to explain what I mean.

    Currently the apps have ratings, but ratings often mean nothing since apps, even good apps, are being rated into oblivion or stuck at the forever mediocre position of a three star nothing. Primary reason why is because every time somebody deletes an app, they are asked to rate it on their phone. Cool idea, but absurdly useless.

    Why would I delete an app that I love? How many people rate an app that they love? They don't. They use the app, which is a testament to its popularity and usefulness. Essentially, ratings are pointless unless all apps get rated. Not all apps will be rated, which means that not all of them are getting the kudos they deserve. Don't get me wrong, apps are still rated and they still have many apps that are closer to four or five stars, but that's because of people who put in the effort to rate the apps.

    Then there are the comments. They are basically akin to drudging through youtube comments, except on your phone, on Apple's own commentary platform. This is aggravating because the comments can be very useful when someone puts in the time to comment. There is no way to push these comments up so that people can quickly view them and make a decision on whether they want an app or not. The whole App store system is a huge mess that needs to be fixed.

    Which brings me to the point. The app store needs to be fixed, yet Apple's way of fixing it is not the way to do it. A stronger social and open app policy is how it's going to get better, not forcing out applications and thus, developers from their platform. Likewise, Apple's problem with other companies encroaching on its territory isn't going to be fixed by strong-arming the competition with ridiculous litigation marches on another company's success.

    It means Apple's focus is becoming a huge mess and it needs to clean it up. Primary example is the iPad. An entirely obvious product that was destined for launch as soon as everyone laid eyes on the iPhone. I predict that the App store will be completely irrelevant on the iPad after web apps become the primary source for everyone's day-to-day needs. Watch for Apple to block webapps from Google and MS when this happens.

    It all comes back to Apple and their love for control over the entire Apple ecosystem. How OS X users have gotten away with so much for so long seems stupefying to me considering how hard Apple worked to lock users in. It won't work this time. No matter how clean Apple wants things, people don't work that way, even their own die-hards.

    When something else works better, people will use it. Locking people into using only what Apple blesses to be the right way is asking for trouble in the long run. It's the same thing content companies are facing, the same thing horse and buggy companies faced, the same thing that all companies that rely on lock-in to fuel their business model will face.

    End tangent.

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