Apple co-founder: Microsoft co-founder is a patent troll

By on May 4, 2011, 1:38 PM

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak had a keynote at the Embedded System Conference Silicon Valley (ESC) taking place this week in San José, California. In it, he discussed the US patent system and inevitably talked about how Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is a patent troll, a pejorative term used for a person or company that enforces its patents against one or more alleged infringers with no intention to manufacture or market the patented invention.

"A lot of patents are pretty much not worth that much," Wozniak told his audience, according to The Register. "In other words, any fifth-grader could come up with the same approach. That patent-troll thing. The other night Paul Allen was speaking at the Computer History Museum and I had four tickets. And I decided at the last minute not to go, because I remembered he's suing all these companies like Apple and Google – but he's not suing Microsoft – because he bought all these patents."

Something must have changed, because Wozniak was supporting Allen back in August 2010 when the lawsuit was first announced. Allen accused 11 massive IT companies of patent infringement: Apple, Facebook, Google (and its subsidiary YouTube), AOL, eBay, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, and Yahoo. He alleged that they used technology created by his Interval Research lab in the 1990s, and Wozniak was okay with that. The Bloomberg video below shows the interview in question, and I've also transcribed the relevant quotes in case you can't watch the video.

"I'm not a lawyer, and we're getting into the legal category, not just the technology category, but I think this lawsuit represents the idea that, you know, 'hey, patents, individual inventors,' they don't have the funds to go up against big companies," Wozniak previously said. So he's sort of representing some original investors. I'm not at all against the idea of patent trolls cause I've had friends who just got forced into bankruptcy by bigger people who had more money and could have a lawsuit against them, forced them to be their own lawyers, and in the end, sometimes they're victorious, but it's a real hard way to do it. So if you're going to have a patent and say ‘It's worth some money, I'll sell it,' well, even if Paul Allen makes a fortune off of it, I think he had the insight to recognize which patents were valuable."

At that point, the Bloomberg interviewer points out that Allen himself wasn't an inventor of the patented technologies he's suing over. Wozniak then says: "Well, Paul Allen was an inventor in the past. He had a big impact even on my own choices of what to invent. You have to have the knowledge to invent. He represents inventors. By owning the patents, you represent inventors."

Later, when asked about the timing of the lawsuit (it was many years after the technologies were considered innovative, Wozniak defends Allen once again. "To do something first — it's so hard to do something first, and once you've done it, everybody says, oh, this is possible, now it seems so easy, it seems trivial. No it wasn't, at first. Those patents should be respected."

In short, Wozniak went from supporting patent trolling, and thus Allen, to hating on both quite viciously. It seems the fact that Allen wasn't suing Microsoft ended up changing Wozniak's mind.

For the record, Allen's suit against the Web was dismissed in December 2010. Still, the saga isn't over yet.

User Comments: 10

Got something to say? Post a comment
madboyv1, TechSpot Paladin, said:

So is Apple, and every other major tech company it seems. Also

"I'm not a lawyer, and we're getting into the legal category..."

Should have stopped right there... lol

mario mario, Ex-TS Developer, said:

Well, to my knowledge a patent troll is someone or a company that only uses patents to sue other companies, they do not develop any products and their business is buying patents and using them only for litigation.

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

That's pretty funny.

I support inventors suing people who steal their patents

- But he didn't invent the stuff he's suing over

But he invented other stuff in the past.

- But nobody sued about the stuff for years

So? Who cares

- And he hasn't sued Microsoft

A pox on him and his offspring!

You either support the ideal of something or you don't. If you only support it given a certain set of circumstances, then you're just as biased as the rest of us.

negroplasty negroplasty said:

Coming from Apple this really is hilarious.

Rick Rick, TechSpot Staff, said:

Paul Allen *is* a patent troll. Look at the ridiculous things he's done like suing over hyperlinks.. HYPERLINKS. 20 years later? WTF?

And the stuff he sues over are patents that he bought into.. not that he's created.. he buys properties for their IP, sits on them and then waits for the right time to sue. That is the very definition of a patent troll.

Apple plays the patent game too, but don't we expect all big companies to make/defend absurd patents anyway.

EXCellR8 EXCellR8, The Conservative, said:

lol @ Apple for accusing MS of trolling

Apple = biggest troll in technology

treetops treetops said:

That apple guy looks like a freak.

Arris Arris said:

It's my understanding that Wozniak no longer has any active role within Apple. So this isn't "Coming from Apple".

Wozniak permanently ended his full-time employment with Apple on February 6, 1987, 12 years after having created the company. He still remains an employee (and receives a paycheck) and is a shareholder.

tengeta tengeta said:

Hey! Its not fair! They get to do what we do!

princeton princeton said:

EXCellR8 said:

lol @ Apple for accusing MS of trolling

Apple = biggest troll in technology

In terms of overall trolling the people at Valve are the biggest trolls in history.

Load all comments...

Add New Comment

TechSpot Members
Login or sign up for free,
it takes about 30 seconds.
You may also...
Get complete access to the TechSpot community. Join thousands of technology enthusiasts that contribute and share knowledge in our forum. Get a private inbox, upload your own photo gallery and more.