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Jonathan Schwartz: What He Couldn't Say (on Patents, OpenOffice, and Bill Gates)
Tuesday, March 09 2010 @ 08:32 PM EST

I know we are all riveted on Utah today, but take a moment, please, because this is important. Jonathan Schwartz, formerly CEO of Sun, has a personal blog, What I Couldn't Say ..., where he has begun to tell us what he couldn't tell us before about events during his tenure there. He has a interesting tale to tell about Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer asking Sun to pay patent royalties to Microsoft on ... OpenOffice.

Here's the story:
As we sat down in our Menlo Park conference room, Bill skipped the small talk, and went straight to the point, “Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.” OpenOffice is a free office productivity suite found on tens of millions of desktops worldwide. It’s a tremendous brand ambassador for its owner – it also limits the appeal of Microsoft Office to businesses and those forced to pirate it. Bill was delivering a slightly more sophisticated variant of the threat Steve had made, but he had a different solution in mind. “We’re happy to get you under license.” That was code for “We’ll go away if you pay us a royalty for every download” – the digital version of a protection racket.

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

But fearing this was on the agenda, we were prepared for the meeting. Microsoft is no stranger to imitating successful products, then leveraging their distribution power to eliminate a competitive threat – from tablet computing to search engines, their inspiration is often obvious (I’m trying to like Bing, I really am). So when they created their web application platform, .NET, it was obvious their designers had been staring at Java – which was exactly my retort.

“We’ve looked at .NET, and you’re trampling all over a huge number of Java patents. So what will you pay us for every copy of Windows?” Bill explained the software business was all about building variable revenue streams from a fixed engineering cost base, so royalties didn’t fit with their model… which is to say, it was a short meeting.

I understand the value of patents – offensively and, more importantly, for defensive purposes. Sun had a treasure trove of some of the internet’s most valuable patents – ranging from search to microelectronics – so no one in the technology industry could come after us without fearing an expensive counter assault. And there’s no defense like an obvious offense.

So, smoking gun, and thanks to Schwartz now we know for sure at least part of what Microsoft thinks it has in its anti-Linux patent arsenal.

Does this anecdote not clarify what was at stake in the Oracle-Sun deal? Think Microsoft might want those patents? Or at least get them into Microsoft-friendly hands? Without them, it can't be as bad as it wants to be, methinks.

Steve Jobs threatened to sue Sun over Project Looking Glass. Oh, how I loved that project, but here's what happened to it:

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.”

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.

And that was the last I heard on the topic. Although we ended up abandoning Looking Glass, Steve’s threat didn’t figure into our decision (the last thing enterprises wanted was a new desktop – in hindsight, exactly the wrong audience to poll (we should’ve been asking developers, not CIO’s)).

* To see a Looking Glass demo, click here - it starts at the ~2:00 minute mark.


  


Jonathan Schwartz: What He Couldn't Say (on Patents, OpenOffice, and Bill Gates) | 124 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections Here if Needed
Authored by: entre on Tuesday, March 09 2010 @ 08:48 PM EST
For PJ

[ Reply to This | # ]

I can't wait till June
Authored by: kawabago on Tuesday, March 09 2010 @ 08:50 PM EST
When the Supreme Court tosses out software patents. I expect them to issue a new
test for patentable subject matter that will eliminate business method, software
and gene patents.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off Topic Here
Authored by: SilverWave on Tuesday, March 09 2010 @ 09:03 PM EST
:)

---
RMS: The 4 Freedoms
0 run the program for any purpose
1 study the source code and change it
2 make copies and distribute them
3 publish modified versions

[ Reply to This | # ]

News Picks here
Authored by: SilverWave on Tuesday, March 09 2010 @ 09:04 PM EST
:)

---
RMS: The 4 Freedoms
0 run the program for any purpose
1 study the source code and change it
2 make copies and distribute them
3 publish modified versions

[ Reply to This | # ]

NOW - has anyone wondered what MS might have said to Novell? MONO-patents-etc? Do the math?
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, March 09 2010 @ 09:30 PM EST
NOW - has anyone wondered what MS might have said to Novell? MONO-patents-etc?
Do the math?

Does MS call up everyone and use the monopoly money paid for patent portfolio to
PUSH them around too?

Can't wait for Bilski ruling (and bets on when it will happen)?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Jonathan Schwartz: What He Couldn't Say (on Patents, OpenOffice, and Bill Gates)
Authored by: kjs on Tuesday, March 09 2010 @ 10:01 PM EST
I am impressed that he discloses these things so open and in detail! Looks like
he was mainly hindered by the influence of shareholders and board to do the
right things at Sun.

The industry went down the hill at the time shareholders were considered
customers!

>kjs

[ Reply to This | # ]

I used looking glass as a my desktop for about two years.
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, March 09 2010 @ 10:36 PM EST
I liked it a lot.
Now I use ldxe

[ Reply to This | # ]

Jonathan Schwartz: What He Couldn't Say (on Patents, OpenOffice, and Bill Gates)
Authored by: tknarr on Tuesday, March 09 2010 @ 11:03 PM EST

Negotiations a la Belloc:

Whatever happens, we have got The Maxim gun, and they have not.

The Dorsai and the Slammers are familiar with that particular argument in their side's favor too.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Very informative - with a lesson
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 10 2010 @ 01:28 AM EST

Thanks for drawing our attention to that.

It show us, once again, that Free Software will always be walking on thin ice until software patents are abolished. Unfortunately, I don't see our political system, which except at the most broad-brush level is controlled by large corporations, ever accomplishing that.

[ Reply to This | # ]

But.... MS respects other people's IP....
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 10 2010 @ 02:22 AM EST

With a comment like:

Bill explained the software business was all about building variable revenue streams from a fixed engineering cost base, so royalties didn’t fit with their model…
Right.... I'm gonna believe MS respects other people's IP... does someone perchance have the Brooklyn Bridge for sale also?

RAS

[ Reply to This | # ]

Expect more detail in the future
Authored by: ciaran on Wednesday, March 10 2010 @ 06:41 AM EST

It's a great blog entry alright. I bet there's much more of this story to tell. Hopefully journalists will ask him about this in the coming months.

As for the "can't wait for Bilski" comments - that case could go either way, and the more likely outcome is that it will be refocussed to not take a decision on software patents. Bilksi's patent is on a business method, not an algorithm.

Whatever happens, one possibility is a legislative proposal, which could come from either camp, and another is that the Supremes review some other subject-matter cases from the CAFC - like they did in their subject matter "trilogy" of '72, '78, and '81.

And then there's the ACTA disaster that's happening right now.

Either way, we'll still be working on this problem in a decade's time. Something I think is important is documenting everything as we go. If anyone wants to help, I've been working night and day to build a publicly editable wiki to document the entire case against software patents. Here are some pages:

[ Reply to This | # ]

    Jonathan Schwartz: What He Couldn't Say (on Patents, OpenOffice, and Bill Gates)
    Authored by: dyfet on Wednesday, March 10 2010 @ 07:19 AM EST
    It's only a shame that he didn't then also call the security desk afterward, to
    have them "escorted" out the building. These people should be treated
    exactly like the thugs they behave as.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    So if I read rightly, Novell is infinging the java patents.
    Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 10 2010 @ 07:41 AM EST
    So if I read rightly, Novell is infinging the Java patents in its implementation
    of Mono.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    His Billness......
    Authored by: tiger99 on Wednesday, March 10 2010 @ 09:00 AM EST
    A long time ago, some anonymous person here on Groklaw, who was probably not a native English speaker, remarked that Gates was sick. We would seem to see convincing signs of that here.
    Microsoft owns the office productivity market
    Clearly delusional, no-one can "own" such a market.
    Bill explained the software business was all about building variable revenue streams from a fixed engineering cost base, so royalties didn’t fit with their model…
    Meaningless verbiage, commonly known as Gates-speak. Probably delusional again.

    I think we see many of the fundamental behaviour patterns of a dictator here. If Gates ever goes into politics, the results will be very bad indeed.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    a time bomb?
    Authored by: mcinsand on Wednesday, March 10 2010 @ 10:21 AM EST
    So we now have a public statement of two companies knowing of infringements to
    granted patents. Forget that they're software patents for a minute, and focus
    on the issue of a company looking the other way when it comes to an
    infringement. This can null a patent, just as it can with a copyright,
    especially if there is a meeting between companies, the infringements are
    acknowledged, and there is no resolution to the infringement. The way patents
    and copyrights work, to allow public, nonrestricted infringement is to lose
    rights to enforce. In other words, it is a way to effectively donate to the
    public domain.

    To protect Java, is Sun/Oracle under a gun to start firing off letters on .NET?
    Is MS now forced to act on what it thinks it holds for OO? In a perfect world,
    we could get some action to wake the USPTO up and throw out software patents
    altogether!

    mc

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Jonathan Schwartz: What He Couldn't Say (on Patents, OpenOffice, and Bill Gates)
    Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 10 2010 @ 10:55 AM EST
    "Steve called my office to let me know the graphical effects were “stepping
    all over Apple’s IP.”

    I wonder what this means for projects like Compiz, Emerald, AWN and Gnome-Do. I
    wonder if Apple would sue someone for producing a popular desktop with all these
    "graphical effects" enabled out of the box. And no Ubuntu does not
    count as compiz is severely toned down out of the box. And Win7 does not count
    because MS has a huge patent war chest so I don't think Apple will sue them for
    Win7's "Graphical Effects" and taskbar

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    COMES here
    Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, March 10 2010 @ 11:13 AM EST
    So that PJ can find them easily -SteveF

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    No surprise - Jonathan Schwartz: What He Couldn't Say (on Patents, OpenOffice, and Bill Gates)
    Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, March 11 2010 @ 01:51 PM EST
    I always felt that Microsoft's MySQL objection to the acquisition of Sun by
    Oracle was a red-herring, and what Microsoft was really afraid of was someone
    with some muscle taking over Open Office. And we know Larry Ellison has a
    strong opinion. I've seen indications that Oracle is not making the transition
    a smooth one, but I still have hope.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    I politely asked him in the comments about Sun's payment to SCO.
    Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, March 12 2010 @ 06:18 AM EST
    The comment was not published.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

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