Would 2010 Steve Jobs Sue 1996 (Or 1984) Steve Jobs Over Patents?

from the innovation-vs.-litigation dept

One of the things you discover in studying the history of patent use among many companies is that when they're young, they innovate. When they're old, they litigate. That is when they're growing and building cool stuff, they don't worry much about patents, but focus on building the coolest products they can to best serve the market. But when they get older, and entrenched, they don't innovate quite as much, but focus instead on trying to keep competitors out of the market. We highlighted this by showing Microsoft's changing views on patents, from Bill Gates' claim in 1991 that "the industry would be at a complete standstill" if companies had used patents in the PC software space early on, to Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith saying in 1997 that "software patents and other intellectual property is essential to maintaining the incentives that encourage and underwrite technological breakthroughs."

Similarly, a year ago, we highlighted how Apple appeared to be going through a similar shift, quoting Steve Wozniak's claim about how the Apple II was "one of the most successful products of all time," in part because they didn't think about patents or copyright, and shared their ideas freely with everyone -- to Apple's Tim Cook's claims that "We will not stand for having our IP ripped off, and we will use every weapon at our disposal."

With Apple now going on the offensive against HTC (and, by proxy, Google's Android), it seems others are noticing not just an overall corporate shift, but the change in viewpoints of Steve Jobs. william points us to a Gizmodo post highlighting how Steve Jobs noted how Apple was "shameless about stealing great ideas." But in the announcement about the HTC lawsuit, he has a different perspective: "competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."

Strong words coming from the guy who admits he blatantly copied the graphical user interface he saw at Xerox PARC many years ago. Now, no one's going to claim that Apple and Jobs haven't been incredibly innovative over the past decade (or more). In fact, they've been amazingly innovative. But during that time, the company has mostly focused on continually innovating, rather than going on the offensive over patents. It seems like this new offensive move might be an early warning sign that the company no longer believes it can keep up its innovative pace.

Filed Under: patents, steve jobs
Companies: apple


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2010 @ 6:18am

    Nothing like a misleading post...

    "Similarly, a year ago, we highlighted how Apple appeared to be going through a similar shift, quoting Steve Wozniak's claim about how the Apple II was "one of the most successful products of all time," in part because they didn't think about patents or copyright, and shared their ideas freely with everyone..."

    What is absolutely amazing is that the statement by Wozniak is at the very least misleading, but I personally consider the statement a lie. Why?

    Well, for starters, Apple Computer v. Franklin Computer, filed in 1982 (yes, 1982, back when Apple Computer was supposedly young and innovative) was the FIRST TIME, yes, the very FIRST TIME, that an appellate court in the United States held that an operating system could be protected by copyright.

    Yep. Mull that over in consideration of Wozniak's statement. Not only was Apple concerned about intellectual property, but they were the poster child for copyright infringement litigation with respect to software.

    So, Mr. Wozniak, Apple was not concerned about copyright in its "early days"? Maybe you were thinking of the "early days" as the 1970's? Of course, that meant that the innovative and young days lasted about four years. Some people might just agree with you that Apple was only innovative for four years, but hey, let us not pick nits.

    What else happened in the early 1980's? Well Apple approached Bill Gates and accused him of infringement, but they agreed to a licensing agreement with Gates. This was around 1983. So maybe one tiff, with Franklin Computer, was an aberration, but two tiffs over copyright? Please. Apple was setting a pattern. Five years into the history of the company and they were starting to sue people REGULARLY over copyright infringement.

    Oh, and if you think those two cases were unusual, let us not forget that also Apple sued Mackintosh Computers and Hewlett Packard in the 1980's for copyright infringement.

    Did Apple "think" about patents? Well, let us consider the history of the company. Apple was incorporated in January, 1977. About one year later the company filed for its first patent. Wait a second. I thought the company shared and did not "think" about patents. Was that wrong? Maybe another aberration?

    Okay, Apple filed four patent applications in the 1970's, in a time when patent litigation was not a very big deal, but they were also a small company. By the end of 1984, Apple had applied for nearly THREE DOZEN patents - maybe more if some did not get allowed.

    If Apple did not "think" about patents when it was young and innovative, why did they have around three dozen patent applications in the hopper when they were young and innovative? Why did they have about 10 dozen patents in the hopper by the end of 1989, when the company was just beyond its first decade of life?

    We do not want to examine the early 1990's, when Apple was filing dozens of patent applications per year.

    Now, in case you might point out that all of Apple's early patents were for hardware, you also need to realize that in the early 1980's software patents were not well accepted. Indeed, software patents gained acceptance slowly, but were accepted in the early 1990's. Guess who was filing software patent applications by the early 1990's? Yep.

    So, when Steve Wozniak says they did not "think" about patents or copyrights, I wonder just what that means? It apparently does not mean you are not suing people and filing dozens of patent applications.

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