Year in review: Fighting words, patent wars and more

GMSV’s year in review looks at some of 2010’s major tech battles, most of which are likely to spill over into 2011.

Patent wars: As tech companies become more competitive, they are turning to litigation to hurt each other in the wallet, and perhaps in market share. Nowhere is the trend more pronounced than in mobile phones — itself a battleground for Apple iOS vs. Android and others — around which many of these patent battles revolve. There’s Apple vs. almost all the major makers of phones that don’t start with an “i”: Nokia, Motorola, HTC. There’s Microsoft vs. Motorola. And in August, Oracle went after Google’s Android, saying it infringes on Java copyrights. (See ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ for Google.) The Wall Street Journal quoted the CEO of Lex Machina, a company that maintains a database of patent cases: “We’ve never seen a phenomenon like this,” Joshua Walker said.

Other notable patent fights: In October, Apple challenged a $625 million verdict in the case brought against it by Mirror Worlds, which challenged technologies such as Apple’s popular Cover Flow feature. Microsoft vs. i4i, which in November the Supreme Court agreed to hear in 2011, could drastically change patent lawsuits. (See The tech patent pool: C’mon in, the water’s frigid.) Incidentally, some former Microsofties have waged patent lawsuits. In August, co-founder Paul Allen’s Interval Research sued Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay and Netflix, among others. Update: Allen was ordered to file an amended complaint by today in that suit, which the judge said was not specific enough. A couple of weeks ago, Intellectual Ventures, founded by Nathan Myhrvold (who was CTO) and Edward Jung (ex-chief architect), sued McAfee, Symantec, Altera, Hynix Semiconductor and Check Point Software, among others.

Apple vs. Adobe: Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ now-famous explanation of why Adobe’s Flash won’t appear in Apple products — he says, among other things, that it’s unreliable and is on its way out — is one of the most famous modern tech manifestos. The “A” fight started in April, a back-and-forth ensued, and ripples have included wild stock swings for Adobe, which became the subject of speculation about a Microsoft takeover. The fight also called more attention to “openness” — something both sides think the other is lacking. (See: Jobs illuminates Apple’s Flash objections; Adobe tries tough love on Apple; A more open Apple App Store in just a Flash?; and Wall Street Gone Wild, the Adobe-Microsoft newsFlash version.)

Larry Ellison vs. Jonathan Schwatz, and Ellison vs. HP: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is known for being outspoken, and boy, did he speak his mind in 2010.

First, he had this to say about the blogging CEO of Sun Microsystems, Jonathan Schwartz, in May: “Their management made some very bad decisions that damaged their business and allowed us to buy them for a bargain price. … The underlying engineering teams are so good, but the direction they got was so astonishingly bad that even they couldn’t succeed. Really great blogs do not take the place of great microprocessors. Great blogs do not replace great software. Lots and lots of blogs does not replace lots and lots of sales.”

When Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd resigned in August after disclosing he was investigated for sexual harassment, Ellison e-mailed the New York Times: “The H.P. board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago.” Ellison then hired Hurd as co-president of Oracle about a month later. When HP hired former SAP CEO Leo Apotheker as its new CEO, Ellison e-mailed the Wall Street Journal: “I’m speechless. HP had several good internal candidates…but instead they pick a guy who was recently fired because he did such a bad job of running SAP.” Since then, Oracle tried and failed to put Apotheker on the stand in Oracle’s court fight against SAP, and Ellison has vowed to “go after” HP in the computer-server market. Now Oracle vs. HP looks to be one of the next classic tech titan fights, says Chris O’Brien of the Mercury News.

Google vs. China: During the first half of the year, Google seemed determined to fight China on censorship. But last we heard, read or saw, Google has largely backed down from such idealism and decided that not having a presence in the world’s most populous nation is not an option. In January, after China was suspected of hacking into Gmail accounts in that nation in late 2009, Google decided it would stop censoring search results there, and it did just that in March. But by late June, China had threatened to withhold Google’s operating license in China. And by July, Google had promised the Chinese government that it would “avoid linking to material deemed a threat to national security or social stability.” (For the beginning of the battle, see Google search for spine finally returns a result. For the end of the battle so far, see Google ’softened stance’ and see what pops up.)


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  • Topixsuxs

    ok, ok, ok. How come all the talk here is always about the same companies all the time while Topix, slides under the radar every freaking time? Topix, ya’ll ever heard of that company? They are “only” the largest internet forums in the country, right at home in my hometown, Palo Alto, CA. Ya’ll talk about Google and China, how about the massive defamation and libel that is happening on Topix, who are so cozy with Google their threads turn up at the top of Google searches? And you want to talk about Big Brother, rumor has it Topix is collecting personal data from its users to feed right into the hands of the NSA. Chris Tolles, formerly of Sun Microsystems got tight with the NSA while doing his time there. What is it about Topix that allows them to be spared one ounce of commentary? Meanwhile the company is an ethical mess, oh ok, I guess they’re making serious money there, so what?

    I tried to even post about Topix on Palo Alto Online, they deleted my post within minutes of its posting. Yet Topix is our monster, created right here in the Silicon Valley, its way past time this company is exposed for exactly what it is.

  • I wrote an extensive 2 part article on the Apple vs Adobe war containing definitely more information than we got so far from the news outlets serving Apple’s soup, I invite you to check it out:

  • Speaking of the Year in Review: Thanks very much, Levi, for the bountiful humor and smart commentary this year. Great job!

    Have Happy New Year.


  • Levi Sumagaysay

    Thanks, Tom! Thanks for reading GMSV. And a happy 2011 to you, too.