In 1997, as Amazon.com was preparing to go public, book mega-retailer Barnes & Noble filed a lawsuit against the two-year-old Internet upstart. A Wall Street Journal write-up of this quixotic effort makes for a fascinating read, as if unearthed from a time capsule. Barnes & Noble, which was just in the process of launching barnesandnoble.com, objected to Amazon calling itself “the World’s Largest Bookstore.” Barnes & Noble fumed that it stocked “more books than Amazon, and there is no book that Amazon can obtain which Barnes & Noble cannot.” The line for the ages from Barnes & Noble’s suit charges that Amazon “isn’t a bookstore at all … It is a book broker making use of the Internet exclusively to generate sales to the public.”
I thought about this episode while preparing for my interview later today with Mark Fields, CEO of Ford. (The discussion is part of a Fortune partnership with Facebook for a video interview series called “The Chat”; you can send me questions to ask Fields by social media or email.) Ford, to its credit, isn’t trying to sue today’s scariest upstart threat to the auto industry, Uber. It is, however, trying its darnedest to figure out Uber’s secret sauce by mimicking some of its services.
Ford has introduced numerous experiments and pilot programs, including an on-demand car-sharing service in London. More recently it started a corporate campus transit program called Dynamic Shuttle that sounds an awful lot like UberPool, the startup’s multi-passenger service. Ford’s initiative is compelling. It contends that it will offer three layers of analysis from its service compared to Uber’s one. It will glean data from the movements of its vehicles (vans made by Ford, naturally), its riders’ rides (which Uber also gets), and mileage performance and other vehicle measurements. All this can be fed into an algorithm to optimize the service.
So far, so good. The catch? Ford’s pilot involves four—count them, four—vans on its Dearborn, Mich., campus. Uber can be forgiven for not quaking in its boots just yet.
The genuinely important part here is that Ford is trying to anticipate where the world is going, even as it sells millions of vehicles each year. Its ability to catch up with the future isn’t clear. But it deserves bonus points for wanting to.
BITS AND BYTES
Qualcomm decides against breakup. The chip maker, under pressure to increase shareholder value, was considering a plan to separate its research operation and its chip-making business into two separate companies. Management concluded that splitting up would hinder Qualcomm’s ability to innovate and get new technologies to market quickly. (New York Times)
Dell wants $5 billion for services division. The Texas tech company is seeking buyers for several businesses, including the former Perot Systems, to help pay off debt related to its forthcoming buyout of EMC. Several multinational IT services companies have considered the assets, reports the Wall Street Journal, although a deal with India’s Tata Consultancy Services fell apart. (Wall Street Journal)
Here’s a deeper look at Dell’s books. The company’s first quarterly disclosure since going private in 2013 shows it generated $14 billion in revenue for the quarter that ended in July, off about 6% from a year earlier. Dell paid off $4.5 billion in debt over the past two years, but its regulatory filing illustrates why asset sales are necessary to finance the EMC buyout. (Wall Street Journal)
Meanwhile, VMware exits poorly received joint venture. Just days after its majority investor EMC disclosed its intention to merge with Dell in October, VMware and EMC announced plans to pool their various cloud-related technologies into a company called Virtustream. The change of heart was welcomed widely by analysts, although VMware’s stock still ended lower Monday. It has lost about one-quarter of its value since the EMC-Dell union was declared. (Barron’s)
Samsung appeals Apple smartphone patent case to Supreme Court. Its specific challenge centers on the broad application of design patents, which guide ornamental details rather than technical features. Right now, successful plaintiffs can claim all of the profits generated by an infringing product. Samsung argues that’s excessive. (Fortune)
Seattle gives Uber, Lyft drivers right to unionize. On paper, the new city ordinance will let contract drivers for the ride-sharing companies negotiate collectively on wages and other matters. Seattle is the first city to take this stand. However, the law may violate federal precedent, and Uber is threatening to sue. (Reuters)
IBM is bringing in Watson to conquer the Internet of things. IBM’s cognitive computing service plays Jeopardy, assists doctors in diagnosing patients, and helps financial services professionals recommend products to clients. Now, Watson has a new role. It will help IBM clients shuffle through the reams of data expected to be generated by manufacturing equipment, building sensors, cars, and other devices connected to the Internet. (Fortune)
Pinterest narrows focus. The visual social network’s 100 million monthly visitors spend much of their time cataloging recipes, sharing home decorating ideas, and earmarking fashion “looks” they like. That drove Pinterest’s relatively small ad team’s decision to prioritize related retailers and consumer goods brands moving forward, reports the Wall Street Journal. The company’s “Buy Button” experiment, which helps visitors shop for items they like, remains intact. (Wall Street Journal)
What this hedge fund’s plan to remake Yahoo gets right. Coming up with ways to fix Yahoo has turned into a cottage industry, as the company struggles to keep its share price from tanking even further. And those who want to fix the broken Internet giant include some professional money managers, who see their investments declining in value by the day. Here’s why a 99-page plan that emerged over the weekend is getting so much attention. (Fortune)
MORE FORTUNE TECH COVERAGE
Why analysts are bullish about Square by Leena Rao
This ruling could make or break Pandora by Michal Addady
New drone registration fees cause turbulence by Jonathan Vanian
Why Apple’s smart battery case gets the job done by Jason Cipriani
How this startup hopes to improve virtual reality delivery by John Gaudiosi
McKinsey buys Formula One data analytics firm QuantumBlack
by Stacey Higginbotham
ONE MORE THING
No wonder Facebook shareholders are so upset over board compensation. The sometimes arbitrary size of awards underscores its cavalier attitude toward broader corporate governance concerns. (Fortune)