Former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz began a new blog three weeks ago called What I Couldn't Say to "put context around some of the decisions I faced at Sun," now that he's free from the corporate obligations to watch his words.
Schwartz writes today about tech company patent wars, revealing a 2003 meeting where Apple's Steve Jobs threatened Sun over patents:
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.
As a longtime Java book author I can remember the Project Looking Glass pitch. I can't think of any reason why Jobs would threaten patent litigation to stop it. Sun proposed and abandoned countless big ideas over the years.