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Sculley’s New Job

A number of readers wrote in with more details regarding Spectrum Information Technologies, the company that hired John Sculley as CEO. Whether or not you like Sculley, under his leadership Apple grew at an incredible rate, so it might be worth watching Spectrum in the future.

Apparently, Spectrum works in the field of linking computers with cellular phones. They designed some of the current modem-to-cellular phone interfaces, including the Axcell, which Applied Engineering sells. The company is reportedly about to release a single-chip version of the Axcell device, which would enable other companies to easily add cellular interfaces to devices like the Newton and the PowerBooks.

Spectrum claims that its patents cover any link between cellular phones and modems, as well as any use of the wireless error correction protocols that necessary for handling noisy cellular connections or the pause when a cell handoff occurs. Like many technology companies with patents, Spectrum now claims that anyone who does anything similar infringes on that patent. The specifics are for high-priced lawyers to decide slowly, but I prefer to see companies compete on merit, not legalities. The first company to be dragged into the legal boxing ring is Microcom (the company that created the MNP protocols used in most modern modems), presumably over the MNP-10 error correction protocol, which Microcom created specifically for cellular connections.

In addition to all the legal nonsense, Spectrum had some doings on Wall Street last spring. Reportedly Spectrum issued a press release saying that they’d signed a deal with AT&T worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Spectrum stock shot up from around $3 to around $13 overnight, only to fall right back down when AT&T announced that the deal wasn’t worth anywhere near that much. Irate shareholders immediately filed suit, and that lawsuit is still in progress. Their stock rose again for real when their patent was approved a month or so ago, and again when they announced that Sculley would become the CEO. Spectrum counts IBM and Rockwell International among its licensees.

Perhaps the most interesting part is that Sculley pushed the Newton heavily in his last months in control at Apple, and the Newton relies on wireless communication for much of its appeal beyond being a fancy DayTimer. Given that Sculley has close ties to the White House and that anything wireless must in some fashion go past the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), his actions make sense in that context.

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