Adobe legal entanglements

As a background to recent unconfirmed reports of Adobe asking the U.S. government to investigate Apple (presumably for excluding Flash from the App Store), here are a few of the legal cases by and against Adobe over the years:

  • In the late 1980s, British high-end digital effects powerhouse Quantel sued Adobe for $138 million over patented aspects of its Paintbox it claimed Photoshop violated, but lost the case in 1997 due to prior art from Alvy Ray Smith, computer graphics pioneer and co-founder of Pixar.
  • In 1998, the German printing systems giant Heidelberger sued Adobe for violating its photo retouching patents. The two companies settled out of court two years later.
  • In 1998, Adobe settled its font software copyright and typeface designs case against The Learning Company Inc. for $2 million in damages.
  • In 2000, Adobe sued Macromedia for having violated its “reconfigurable tabbed palette” patent to stop the launch of Macromedia’s Flash 5.0. The then Adobe president Bruce Chizen: “Adobe will not be the research and development department for its competitors.” Two years later, Adobe won damages of $2.8 million.
  • Two weeks after that verdict, another jury this time found Adobe violated several Macromedia patents and awarded Macromedia $4.9 million. The then chairman and CEO of Macromedia Rob Burgess: “The score is now Adobe one, Macromedia one, customers zero.”
  • In 2005, Adobe bought Macromedia in a $3.4 billion stock deal.
  • In 2010, after Apple blocked Flash from the App store and Steve Jobs shared his “Thoughts on Flash” publicly, an Adobe platform evangelist blogged “Go screw yourself Apple” and Adobe is said to have asked for governmental intervention.

12 thoughts on “Adobe legal entanglements

  1. Seems to me a critical point Jobs talked about that does not get mentioned often enough is (paraphrasing here) “…we’ve repeatedly asked Adobe to demonstrate how the Flash can run WELL (my emphasis) on a mobile device, ANY mobile device, and they have not been able to do it…”

    Putting aside the performance and security critical issues for a minute, of all the “smart phones” out there, what percentage actually CAN run Flash, any Flash content, without crashing half the time? Not to mention full desktop Flash capabilities. No one seem willing to provide some numbers. My guess is less than 1 out every 10 phones. The canned Adobe supporter line of “millions of sites use Flash” DOES NOT APPLY to the mobile web. None of it matters to 99% of phones out there right now. What Adobe is banking on, and everyone just unquestionably bought into also, is that EVENTUALLY, one day, some time in the future, Adobe can make Flash work on mobile OS like on desktop OS (which is to say not really well, but I digress).

    My point is that – How can vaporware from one company have any say on another company’s technical and business decision on their 3-year-old, matured, commercial product (yet not a market majority)? Adobe’s argument is like putting the cart before the horse. First they have to release a production quality (well guess that’s means nothing now thanks to Google’s permanent Beta programs) plug-in that can run full Flash, on 1, ONE smartphone. Then they have to show most web-browsing capable phone manufacturers and platform providers will allow the plug-in.

    Until then, Adobe’s argument is about as frivolous as if Microsoft sues Apple for not supporting .NET Framework or a Silverlight/VBScript plug-in in mobile Safari, or Java supporter demanding JavaFX plug-in in the iPhone OS.

  2. Minor quibble on that last bullet: I believe the “Go screw yourself Apple” obscenity was posted before “Thoughts on Flash” was published.

    • And to be precise, I wrote:

      “In 2010, after Apple blocked Flash from the App store and…”

      The epitaph came after that and before Jobs’ Thoughts.

  3. If all Adobe can do is drag Apple through some anti-trust mud and blogger name calling then that is a bit feeble. Apple is shutting Adobe out of iDevices necause of business reasons that stem from technical reasons that also just happen to have be given to them by Adobe. Poetic justice to be sure, but far from what Adobe supporters would have us believe, its hardly personal. Well, except for the timing, possibly. The average man on the street though, who is familiar with the history might cut Apple a little slack for that touch. Adobe won’t – they’ll sue Apple for it if they have the chance. They are stirring up all the trouble they can it seems.

  4. You forgot Adobe threatening to sue Microsoft over native PDF generation in Office 2007. Mind you that this happened in mid to late 2006, and the *day* before Office 2007 and Vista were released, Adobe released PDF 1.7 to the ISO as an open standard. Prior to that, they had given ‘anyone’ the ‘right’ to create their own PDF writer for PDF 1.6.

    Roysna’s comment to the msdn post on this is rather salient:

    So with that in mind, you’d have to be a damned fool, or completely, stupidly delusional to trust Adobe not to rat-fuck you if it thought your player or tools would hurt Flash’s revenue stream.

    That company lies like it accuses Apple of lying.

  5. Apple’s response to this latest insult from Adobe should be:
    1. Buy Quark and overhaul it in the same way it has done with Final Cut, Logic, etc. Lower the price and kill InDesign while maintaining the Publishing crowd with tools for whatever medium they choose.
    2. The same way they used webkit for Safari perhap they could leverage Gimp as an engine for an Apple customized graphics tool. They could give some of there work back the Open Source commuinity so that Photoshop and Illustrator never stand a chance with their enormous price tags.
    3. If gimp isn’t an option Buy ACD and use Canvas as their Photoshop and Illustrator killer.

    The irony is Adobe was more than willing to screw Apple when they were transitioning from Classic to OS-X. Actually OS-X exists in its current form because Adobe (and Microsoft) were unwilling to support the Rhapsody OS Plan. When Apple aproached Adobe to license their PDF rendering for use in their new OS Adobe came to the table with a price tag that was highway robbery. Adobe continued to screw Apple by killing products (Premeire), never developing products for the Mac, and by continuing to wait to the bitter end to rewrite their apps in Cocoa rather than carbon thus producing buggy, slow, or less than optimal software all the while Apple continued to highlight Photoshop in their performance bake offs. Adobe the chickens have come home to roost!

    Same thing is true with RIM and other cell phone manufacturers. The iphone might never have existed if you hadn’t treated Apple and their users like crap. It wasn’t until after the iPhone that RIM actually provided sync tools for their Blackberry’s, and they weren’t even produced in house! RIM’s solution prior to this run Windows in a Virtual PC just to sync your Blackberry.

    I would say Apple has learned their lesson and are unwilling to rely on anyone else to produce the hardware and software for their platform as history has shown that even the best of business partners are willing screw you over when it comes to chasing money.

  6. Good luck, Adobe. Apple allows Flash on my Mac and it’s buggy and a resource hog. If Safari suddenly hangs and quits it’s because of your software. We get treated as second rate citizens because Windows gets all the attention. And you wonder why Apple doesn’t want it on it’s touch devices?

  7. In the FWIW column, I suspect the bad blood between Adobe and Apple has some foundation in Apple’s choice of PDF as the screen display language for OSX. As we may remember, NeXT used Postscript under license for this purpose. I have little doubt that when NeXTStep was evolving into OSX, Apple would have preferred to retain Postscript but was rebuffed by Adobe on the terms of use. The relationship between the companies has been cool for a decade at least (which is surprising, considering their codependency), and I think this may be one of the root matters.

  8. If Adobe’s main complaint is that Apple is “..barring developers from using Adobe’s products to create applications..” then they are a bunch of monkeys and typewriters in San Jose. Here’s why:

    The long and short of it? Photoshop and Illustrator are the primary tools to create iPhone & iPad UI. I would venture to say that EVERY App in the AppStore has somehow been touched by those two Adobe products in their creation.

    Flash is a bit player for the web. Too bad Adobe bet the farm on a (to Mac users, crappy) browser plugin.

    -Drunken Economist

  9. This is Apple’s world. Get rid of the terrorist Adobe with their terror bomb, Flash which always crashes the system. Would the US government tolerate Osama bin Ladin’s terrorist group to roam unimpeded throughout the United States in order to create havoc?

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