Bill Gates has never been one to shy away from a fight. But it is still eye-opening to read just how abrasive he can be.
Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com, the celebrated internet business that lets buyers name their price for goods, has recently filed a law suit accusing Microsoft of patent infringement. According to Walker, in a face-to-face meeting Gates told him he had no intention of letting Priceline's patents stand in his way and added that if Walker was unhappy about that he could 'get in line' with all the other companies trying to sue Microsoft. No wonder Walker is smarting.
Microsoft tends to get tarred as the big bully but in this case the public should be cheering for Gates. Priceline.com's patent does not cover a particular technology, but a whole way of doing business over the internet - any web site that allows people to name a price for a service is covered.
Patents that cover 'business processes' rather than technical inventions are a recent and unwelcome phenomenon and one all businesses, regardless of the 'processes' they follow, can well do without.
Fast-talking Symbian chairman David Potter has managed to offend 3Com, the US networking business, with his over-eager affection.
Trouble started when Nokia agreed to license 3Com's Palm software to run a new smart phone. The news came as a surprise to Symbian, a UK software company that makes a similar piece of software and is part owned by Nokia.
Symbian played no part in the negotiations between 3Com and Nokia. But when Potter heard of the deal he realised he had better show his face at the party. After persuading Nokia to put off announcing its deal, he got Alan Kessler, the president of Palm Computing, to agree that 3Com and Symbian should sit down together to discuss an alliance.
Potter quickly issued a statement to that effect. 3Com's response was not unlike a panicked groom searching for a way to escape a shotgun wedding.
Protesting that it hardly knew the folks at Symbian, it insisted it was far too soon to say whether they really had anything in common. The embarrassing incident is unlikely to have helped relations between the two companies.
Even regulators are succumbing to the lure of e-wealth. Jay Perlman, second in command at the US Securities and Exchange Commission's internet enforcement division, has decided to swap gamekeeping for poaching. He is quitting as one of the leading US regulators of online stock trading and has instead taken a job with Motley Fool, the popular stock trading internet site.