Apple CEO: When Others Violate Our Patents, They're Copying Our Hard Work; When We Violate Patents, The System Is Broken

from the double-standards dept

Apple has certainly been quite the aggressor over the last few years when it comes to patents, so it’s interesting to hear that, at the latest All Things D Conference, CEO Tim Cook appears to have a bit of a double standard. You see, when others infringe upon Apple’s patents, he insists that they’re somehow copying all of Apple’s hard work, and that’s unfair. Cook uses a ridiculous plagiarism analogy:

He compared patent infringement to signing one’s name on a painting that someone else put energy into finishing. Cook stressed the importance of companies building their own stuff so that Apple would not be “the developer for the rest of the world.”

Kinda like, you know, how Apple “signed its name” to the graphical user interface developed at Xerox PARC? Or the mouse developed at SRI? Or multitouch browsing, developed by a bunch of other folks prior to the iPhone? Sure, Apple improved on all of these things, and many other things as well, but Apple is famous for taking the developments done elsewhere and merely putting a nice final consumer-friendly coat of paint on it. No doubt, this is an important step, but it’s ridiculous to pretend that Apple has come up with the various ideas it has and no one else could have possibly developed the same things. And, of course, plagiarism (claiming credit for something you didn’t do) is an entirely separate issue from infringement (using an invention/creative work without authorization). So it seems silly to even use that analogy.

Of course, then Walt Mossberg brings up the fact that Apple is, in fact, the target of many patent lawsuits as well… and suddenly Cook’s tone changes, insisting that those cases are different:

“The vast majority of those are on standards-essential patents,” he said, adding that it’s an area where today’s patent system is “broken.”

Now, to some extent he’s correct that patent battles over “standards-essential” patents are particularly nefarious, but it still seems like quite the double standard to insist that the patents that Apple has asserted against various makers of Android tablets and smartphones aren’t equally silly and destructive to basic market competition. Apple makes great products that people love. If only it would let those products compete fairly in the market, it could save money on the bruising legal fights it’s involved in around the globe. Cook admitted that patent battles are “overhead” and he wished the fights weren’t so costly. Of course, that would be a lot more convincing if the company hadn’t launched so many patent battles itself.

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Comments on “Apple CEO: When Others Violate Our Patents, They're Copying Our Hard Work; When We Violate Patents, The System Is Broken”

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Anonymous Coward says:

AllThingsD is to Apple what Fox News is to the Republican Party (and journalism for that matter) so I’m not at all surprised to see comments like this solicited and offered by Tim Cook when being interviewed by professional fanboy Walt Mossberg. “We’re Apple so only the things that benefit us or make us look good make sense. Everyone else is doing it wrong.”

The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Meh, you’re buying party line instead of making your own independent observations. FNC are sensationalist ass-wads, granted, but the only reason they pander to the right is because pretty much no other TV news source even considers them human.

They correctly saw an untapped market that was ripe for exploitation and promptly started exploiting it. Welcome to America.

Ninja (profile) says:

Interesting, Samsung might have a thought or two to share with Tim regarding standards-essential patents. HTC too.

Apple will feel the backlash of this aggressive stance soon enough. I do hope they start suing each other till the point they look at all the destruction they’ve caused to each other and reach a consensus to actually lobby for a reform of the patent system. I say Tim, go fully nuclear! Ballmer, do not hold fire! Larry, sue the heck out! Let us bring the apocalypse so ppl can actually see how bad the system is and stop and think about it instead of just keep running on the inertia.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think you must be off your meds. Corporations don’t want to fix the patent system. What they want is for it to become easier to collude with other big corps without having to go to court to do so.

If Apple, Samsung, HTC, Microsoft, Motorola and Google all got together in a room and agreed to not use their patents against each other, but only against upstarts, we’d call it collusion and the DoJ would have no choice but to go after them. But if they start with a trial and then meet up, people call it a settlement and think all is good.

The patent system is fixed. They rigged it a long time ago.

gorehound (profile) says:

Re: Every Corporation Has The Same Motto

And I make sure to avoid all Apple Products.
1.They have stolen millions upon millions of dollars from all of US Citizens by their shady tax bullshit
2.They set up their shops in China instead of giving Americans Manufacturing and jobs.
3.They just keep on the suing other Companies over and over yet they steal their ideas.They even stole their idea of an IPAD from Star Trek and from previous science fiction books/stories.
4.One can just imagine what they are paying out to Politicians so they can keep up their lame Business Practices.

Anonymous Coward With A Unique Writing Style says:

Re: Re: Every Corporation Has The Same Motto

“They even stole their idea of an IPAD from Star Trek and from previous science fiction books/stories.”

Having just read something along this line the other day, I believe they stole the idea (and look) of the iPad from 2001: A Space Odyssey (the film obviously). In fact, when they took Samsung to court over this in Germany, Samsung’s lawyers brought this very point up in court (pointing to 2001: A Space Odyssey as the idea and look from where the iPad originated).

Walter says:

Re: Re: Re: Every Corporation Has The Same Motto

“Having just read something along this line the other day, I believe they stole the idea (and look) of the iPad from 2001: A Space Odyssey (the film obviously). In fact, when they took Samsung to court over this in Germany, Samsung’s lawyers brought this very point up in court (pointing to 2001: A Space Odyssey as the idea and look from where the iPad originated)”

Samsung’s Argument to that is very, undeniably weak. It’s like saying the ideas for the MRI scanner, Cell Phones,and yes..even Apple’s famed FaceTime application, were patent infringements upon Gene Roddenberry’s ideas and technologies that were inspired by his Star Trek series.

Anonymous Coward says:

Apple’s behaviour (properly spelled WITH a fucking “u”) is a symptom of a totally corrupt patent/legal system which is in itself a symptom of totally corrupt government.

One day, when they have eaten all the poor, the rich will kill each other for food.

Bravo America! Your “Last Man Standing” wet dream of ultimate greed will one day be fulfilled.

Modplan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Things that Apple uses in OSX they didn’t originally develop:

XNU, derived from Mach and FreeBSd (OS kernel powering the prettiness you see)

CUPS for printing

Webkit (forked from KHTML) for web page rendering (powers Safari)

X11/server for compatibility with graphical applications that depend on the X server.

Amongst others. No doubt they’ve contributed, but a bit cheeky to say they don’t want to “become the worlds developers” to say the least. I’d also wander whether any of the projects they use would actually invalidate some of the patents they hold due to prior art.

Anonymous Coward With A Unique Writing Style says:

Re: Re:

Yes, the infamous, “You’re holding it wrong.” Followed by flat out denials there was a problem, til outcry was so great that they were forced to acknowledge there may be a problem. Which they laid at the feet of AT&T saying they don’t broadcast network signal strength properly, which was a software error in the iPhone. Then after various independent studies were done showing there was a problem, Apple acknowledged it. But of course Apple can’t make a mistake without trying to drag others into it, which led to the ridiculous, “Well, yes our phones do have an antenna problem when held a certain way, but so do the other guys’ phones.” Which is when they put out videos/pictures of them literally Force Gripping to near death various competitors’ phones to show them losing a bar here or there. Which I found more amusing, they had to literally grip to the point of using excessive amounts of force to achieve what a casual hold on the iPhone does to signal strength.

Apple has just gotten ridiculous, especially regarding Samsung. The HTC One X/Evo 4G LTE shipments being seized was done in a similar attempt to stifle competition. Which when looked at properly can see it for that, HTC had already corrected the patent issue beforehand to avoid just such actions and still it happened at the behest of Apple. For shame.

droslovinia (profile) says:


Not only is this article great troll bait, especially for Apple-haters, but it totally misses the point that TechDirt’s apparent need to beat its chest and push screeds against Apple is hardly the basis for an unbiased perspective. It’s great that there are a lot of haters that agree with this deeply slanted opinion piece. There are probably just as many who want to buy into everything Cook says as well, and they’re just as wrong. Neither perspective should be construed as “fact.”

Wait until Samsung, Google, and the others renounce all patents and go totally open-source, then post stuff like this. Otherwise, it’s just more baboon-like screeching and throwing of poo.

Anonymous Coward With A Unique Writing Style says:

Re: Really?

The other companies do far less harm than Apple to fellow competitors and patents and innovation. Or are you unfamiliar with the Samsung related lawsuits brought by Apple? (One of their claims against Samsung was essentially, “Your phone is rectangular shaped with rounded edges. AND BLACK!” Really, that about says it all for how ridiculous things have gotten with Apple, even to the point of doing that to the one company who is by far their biggest and main supplier for the hardware inside their phones and tablets.) And Google has Android source code available for easily download and compiling should ANYONE want to mess with it and release it to others (XDA being a great source of custom ROMs). The same cannot be said of iOS.

Perhaps you should take a look in the mirror before you accuse others of bias.

Wally says:

First and second paragraph...

I kind of disagree about what was said in the first couple of paragraphs. Apple may have used other patents and improved upon designs, Apple has almost always designed their own hardware out of existing FRAND patents. They not only improved the look of the Xerox Parc GUI, but made it a lot more user friendly. When Woz designed the famed Apple Desktop Bus, he used industry standards to make it….which does not violate patent law. He got rid of the secondary connector ground wire is serial standards of the time that was initially a ground interrupt for I/O only letting one device at a time be connected. They created the daisy changing affect and allowed the mouse and keyboard to be similultaneoudly used while the mouse was connected to the keyboard at the same time to the machine…a feature that we who play first person shooters take for granted every day.
Apple’s floppy disk drive systems were non propriatery and were the first to for able to format any 5 1/4″ or 3.5″ floppy on non-company made floppies.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: First and second paragraph...

So utilizing FRAND industry standard essential patents and making IMPROVEMENTS TO THEM is illegal now??? If I recall, it is ok to take a piece of a patent There is no hypocrisy to be criticized. You would still be using the Xerox Parc interface today if it weren’t for Apple designing an interface ALL ON THEIR OWN based on only the WINDOWING SYSTEM and creating all the other concepts such as “garbage in garbage out” and folder looking icons to indicate “folders VS applications”…you don’t see them SUING ANYONE for using the GARBAGE CAN set. The idea of a GUI is not patentable…especially when you DESIGN it yourself.

Shall we discus the fascinating history of the Apple Desktop Bus…which was typically used to connect Keyboards and Mice to the Macintosh before USB?

The problem that Sculley is complaining about is VERY valid. People are suing other people over the patents they own on INDUSTRY STANDARD FRAND PATENTS. Apple has a right to sue someone when a product can be easily confused with their own. Look at the dock connector for the Samsung Gallaxy IIIS and the Galaxy Tablets……the only difference between them and a STANDARD iPod Dock is a Piece of plastic that you add on to hold. The devices’ end of the wire that holds it securely in the device is external and attached to the wire…that same piece of plastic is inside all iPods and iOS devices. All Samsung had to do was use a bunch of left over moldings to make them.

Furthermore, As far as i know, apple is the only company that is selling mobile devices with accurate haptic feedback touch screens

Oh and a kicker, LOOK at a Galaxy Tab and an iPad from a distance of about 10 to 20 feet…same distance the average electronics shopper will notice the product they are looking for…….can you see a difference? more likely not.

So really…Apple has every single right to complain because industry essential standard patents are exactly what they have gotten sued for….Take Motorola Mobility and what is happening to the X-box 360….they trying to sue M$ for infringement. You know why? X-Box 360 which uses MS Silverlight instead of Adobe flash to play videos and…like almost every other devices and every single BluRay Player, Apple device, and flash video players embedded on a web page…uses a video standard called H.264 . AKA (wait for it)…………MPEG-4 AVC. I don’t see Sony being sued for using it in BluRay, all your cable companies and satellite providers being sued for providing you with HDTV….
*says with overtly sarcastic tone* yes Apple is definitely being “hypocritical” by suing over THEIR designs being stolen and defending themselves against patent trolls.

Anonymous Coward says:

I usually tend to stay away from comments as much as possible whenever apple, microsoft, android, etc are mentioned because I know that 90% of the comments end up being filled with completely nonfactual “feelings” related to a product they have never used. Both platforms have their benefits and their downsides. Its the user that ends up having to determine what they prefer in a product.

That being said, Watching the actual video, I think he went in a direction in the attempt to make a point, but ended up falling flat on his face.

Using his analogy – I’ll attempt to say what I believe he meant to say but failed: There should be a system in place to protect the painter from someone coming along and putting their name on his or her painting. But its rather asinine to have someone come along once that painting sold, and demand a portion of the return because they have a patent on the brush.

The way he ended up saying it, however, made Apple look rather pompous.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Touche – I wish something would be done about the patent system in this country. Does this stuff then not tie up our legal system and cost us more money to operate? I suppose none of that matters as long as there is money in the right people’s pockets.

It does make me laugh a little though hearing people saying “This is why i’ll never ever buy apple products” from their Windows PC when Microsoft and a whole slew of other technology companies do the same thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I won’t buy Apple products, but not because of this reason, but because I’ve never had a single good experience with any Apple products, they don’t work the way I want them to, they are over priced, and their competitors offer more for less. Which explains why they fear competition so much.

Thank god for competition though. A world where Apple had no competition would be a very sad world indeed.

TriZz (profile) says:

He did say that none of the suing that Apple is doing is for standard-essential patents. If that’s true – then the tone of this story is moot.

Have you investigated whether or not Apple is in fact NOT suing anyone for standard-essential patents?

If what he said is true that Apple isn’t suing anyone under those grounds, then his statement is true and is not double-edged.


Re: All of the mindless hype...

If Apple is really as good as all of the mindless hype likes to make out, then punitive attempts to run the other guys out of business are entirely unnecessary. The product should be able to stand on it’s own without any dirty tricks. This should be settled by salesmen and engineers rather than lawyers.

Consumer computing products represent the end of a very long R&D chain. If any consumer products company claim they invented something, they are likely lying.

DannyB (profile) says:

Standards Essential patents

Dear Tim Cook, please don’t worry about standards essential patents.

Now that Google has more free time on its hands after the Oracle patent trial as defendant, it knows more about what NOT to do, that Oracle did.

Furthermore, with the acquisition of Morotola’s 17,000 patents, and last year’s 1,000 patents from IBM, I’m sure Google will be looking for some non Standards Essential patents, that is non FRAND patents with real teeth.

Big teeth.

Not stuff like rounded corner rectangles or touching a phone number to dial it.

So far, Google’s record includes getting an injunction against Xbox 360, and Microsoft has to put down a bond of 7% of all unsold inventory.

All that is necessary for Apple to triumph is for Google men to do nothing.

Then there is Samsung.

Then HTC.

And Motorola, one of the first to be sued by Apple.

A famous quote:

Only an idiot fights a war on two fronts. Only the heir to the throne of the kingdom of idiots would fight a war on twelve fronts. — Londo Mollari

I’m sure Tim Cook will whine if his precious gets an import ban. But as they say, sauce for the goose. Apple has gotten other OEM’s Android phones/tablets banned multiple times in multiple countries. It’s about time they enjoy the same.

Aaron Toponce (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Just to be extra clear, if Apple paid for access to Xerox technology with stock, then why did Xerox sue Apple in 1989 claiming that their GUI intellectual property was stolen?

“Xerox contends that the Lisa and Macintosh software stems from work originally done by Xerox scientists and that it was used by Apple without permission.”


DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That is very true.

Also true is that Apple added substantial and meaningful new development on top of what they saw. They didn’t get code from Xerox. They got inspiration.

One of the major foundational pieces Apple developed was Bill Atkinson’s QuickDraw. He just assumed that Xerox had some way of repainting only the parts of the screen uncovered when a window on top of it was moved or closed. (There wasn’t — Xerox users had to manually give a command to repaint.) So he devised an extremely clever solution with QuickDraw Regions.

Other significant Apple contributions was the menu bar at top of screen. Single button mouse. Dialog boxes.

Significant mistakes (blame: Jobs) were limiting memory to 128 K with no possibility for upgrade. It was also decreed by the queen that there would be no color — ever. B&W that ought to be enough for anybody! No slots, nosiree. It was a nice “appliance” vision, yes, but just a bit too far ahead of its time since there wasn’t an extremely high speed bus like USB.

Microsoft introduced the concept of the “focus”. There was only one. It could move to any control, including buttons. Make no mistake, Apple did not have this. The beauty of the focus was that with some simple global rules, you could move the focus to anywhere and thus operate the computer entirely without a mouse. (Except certain applications like a “paint” type app.)

Microsoft also had a two button mouse but didn’t know what to do with it until they hit puberty in 1995. Way later in Windows 95 they realized the 2nd mouse button was for the “context menu” which was a brilliant use. 1995, and certainly 2010 is a very different time than 1984 and technology is everywhere. Time to get rid of the one button mouse which has served its purpose in an earlier time.

Back in the day Apple was so far ahead of everyone in technical innovation it was amazing. Now Apple is all about packaging, perception and pretending to have technical innovation. iOS doesn’t even have garbage collection, and Apple doubles down and defends this.

Oh, and Apple is about patent trolling. If you can’t beat ’em with technical innovation, then sue ’em.

Wally says:

Re: Nothing to do with angles

I am quite sure that the suit has nothing to so with angles, but components being used DESIGNED by Apple where said patent is licensed to manufacture APPLE products with APPLE brand.

The Samsung Galaxy S III’s camera shares the same EXACT same exact CCD sensor the iPhone 4S uses

Look at the design at a distace and tell me the angles and lines are NOT the same as the iPhone or iPod Touch.

John says:

Every Corporation Has The Same Motto

Except, Walter, you appear not to understand the difference between design and utility patents. Apple claimed it was the first one to invent the *appearance* of a simple rectangular tablet with rounded corners. So all that matters for the prior art there is whether the *appearance* of those earlier designs were substantially the same as what Apple is claiming it designed.

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