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Saturday July 26th 2014

Take Steve Jobs’ Android Comments With a Grain of Salt





Steve Jobs’ authorized biography by Walter Isaacson drops next week, and there is already a buzz around some of the revelations in it, including how very long and difficult his health battles actually were. In another tidbit from the book, it has emerged that Jobs wanted to "destroy" the Android mobile operating system. As GigaOM notes, Jobs wasn’t interested in money in opposing Android.

Jobs reportedly told then Google CEO Eric Schmidt: ”I don’t want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won’t want it. I’ve got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that’s all I want.” While Jobs’ competive stance is admirable, Apple itself has a long history of copying technology and reaping lucrative rewards.

In this OStatic post from March of last year, I commented on a post from Jonathan Schwartz, former CEO of Sun Microsystems. In that post, Schwartz noted that Steve Jobs threatened to sue Sun at one point:

"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, [Jobs said] ‘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…And last I checked, MacOS is now built on Unix. I think Sun has a few OS patents, too."

Schwartz reported that Steve was "silent" after the rebuttal. The title of Schwartz’s post was "Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal."

The takeaway here isn’t any criticism of Steve Jobs. He was a fierce competitor and understood that intellectual property matters in technology. His own sense of how much damage copied technology can cause was probably honed by his long history at Apple watching his own company build on other technologies, including many open platforms and applications.

 Jobs was right to fear Android. At the time he expressed his concerns to Schmidt, Android wasn’t yet a significant mobile platform. Now, his premonition that it would become one has come true.

 

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