Last week, I asked whether or not the iPhone actually needed all those patents that Steve Jobs bragged about. It kicked off a fun discussion in the comments (and among other bloggers), but Tom Evslin's response over at his own blog is one of the most enlightening in explaining not only why Apple needed those patents, but why Steve Jobs so prominently bragged about it: Apple made a really dumb business decision in locking themselves up with Cingular, and the only way to protect them from the damages of such a lockup is to make use of the patents. It makes a ton of sense. It's certainly not common for someone pitching a consumer product to brag about how much they patented their new device, but Apple did so to make it clear to everyone that they really are serious about the patents. The reason isn't so much that they fear others just copying the ideas (many of which aren't actually new), but that Apple is very, very limited in how they can offer the iPhone. They are tied to Cingular, who is offering bad terms (two year lock-in, no 3G, no additional applications, no VoIP etc...). That means people who actually want those innovations, but don't want to accept the awful terms they're being offered under would normally look to go elsewhere. And the competition should come along to fill that need, and provide the market what it wants. However, thanks to the combination of Apple's exclusivity with Cingular and the patents, the market cannot be served. Once again, this is not the purpose of the patent system. It's encouraging bad deal making. It's encouraging limiting a market so that it cannot be fully served, even though demand is present for better solutions. Effectively, it has slowed, not improved, innovation. It may protect Apple from the bad deal they made with Cingular, but it's certainly not good for everyone else.
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