Former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz describes Steve Jobs showdown

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We all love Steve, but it’s still common knowledge that our beloved Apple leader can be a bit ornery, especially when he feels like his intellectual property is being threatened. Of course, he doesn’t always get it right, as evidenced by a great little blog post made today by former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, who explains how Jobs threatened to sue Sun over Project Looking Glass and its graphical effects.

Over at his blog, Schwartz writes:

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.”

But Schwartz has a ready retort…

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.

Innovation’s about a give-and-take, knowing when inspiration is theft, and when it’s just a compliment… but, of course, that becomes a lot harder when you have a multi-billion dollar company’s IP to protect. As Jobs himself once said, “”Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal.” Perhaps that should be supplemented with an addendum: “Lesser CEOs borrow; great CEOs sue to protect?”