Apple's View On Patents Then And Now
from the times-change dept
For all the talk among patent system defenders about how patents are most necessary for young startup companies that need to grow, most tech startups couldn’t care much less about patents (other than as a bogus currency to increase their valuation in talking to VCs). Startups are focused on actually building a product and getting it out to the market. Instead, what we see time and time again is that it’s the big, more established companies that use patents to stifle startups, rather than the other way around. Startups innovate, while big companies litigate.
To make that point, we once highlighted two quotes from Microsoft execs at different times during the company’s existence:
Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel, 2007: “Protection for software patents and other intellectual property is essential to maintaining the incentives that encourage and underwrite technological breakthroughs. In every industry, patents provide the legal foundation for innovation. The ensuing legal disputes may be messy, but protection is no less necessary, even so.”
Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO, 1991: “If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today… A future start-up with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose.”
Now, perhaps, we have a similar situation with Apple. Most of you have heard Apple’s Tim Cook make his recent comments about Apple patents:
We like competition–as long as our competitors don’t rip off our IP. And we’re going to go after anyone who does. I’m not talking about any particular company, but we are ready to suit up and go against anyone. We will not stand for having our IP ripped off, and we will use every weapon at our disposal….
Well, David Levine has a nice quote from Steve Wozniak’s autobiography:
“It’s funny, I think back on it now — the Apple II would turn out to be one of the most successful products of all time. But we had no copyrights or patents at all back then. No secrets. We were just showing it to everybody.”
While the comments on that post do note that Apple did, in fact, end up getting patents on the Apple II, reading stories on the early days of Apple make it pretty clear what Wozniak meant. The company was incredibly open in sharing ideas and concepts, and wasn’t going around threatening others for ripping off its IP (that did come later… especially with the graphical user interface, which Jobs himself admitted “ripping off” from Xerox… which had “ripped it off” already from SRI). It’s really only when you’re afraid of competing in the marketplace that you rely on patents. When you’re young and innovative you focus on the possibilities and opportunities in front of you, rather than on ways to block others from innovating.