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. icon
    jilocasin (profile), 4 Mar 2010 @ 7:15am

    Patents probably should be gotten rid of at this point.

    Actually I think the best part of patents, and the one part that seems to be least followed these days, was the disclosure.

    It used to be that in order to get a patent you had to describe your invention in sufficient detail to allow someone else skilled in the trade to build that invention from the patent. When the choice was secret processes that died with the inventor, giving them a 'limited' monopoly in exchange for that data was a good idea.

    Of course what was a good idea when we were talking about the design of a self advancing rotating barrel for a hand gun, is completely worthless when we are talking software or business processes.

    I don't think you most of the software/business patents awarded these days would allow anyone (except maybe an alien psychic ) to build _anything_.

    The patent on the method to associate gestures with selecting user interface elements (just to give a hopefully made up example). What exactly _IS_ that? What knowledge would have been lost if the 'inventor' never shared that knowledge with the rest of the world through her patent application? How would you _build_ anything from that patent?

    If patents hadn't devolved into a government sponsored method of forcing money from completely unrelated people and companies, most of these patents would have never been granted.

    Let's go back to the very simple patent rules and let patents be about promoting progress and keeping information from being lost.

    Where to start....

    No patent for anything existing in nature (genes, plants, mathematics, laws of physics or chemistry, etc.) God already invented those.

    No patent for ways of doing business, exercising your cat with a bright light, or looking up the results of a test in a database. Basically, no patents for 'methods' that don't involve an actual 'invention'. No, software doesn't count. Neither does sprinkling "with a computer" or "across a network" magically make something patentable.

    No patent for anything that someone in that field could/would/should have thought up if someone had asked them the question. If I take 10 bright people trained in that field and ask them what would you build to solve "X". If any of them would have said "Y" you don't get a patent on "Y".

    If I give your patent application to someone trained in the field, and they can't build whatever it is that you are trying to patent, then you don't get a patent.

    The purpose of patents is to document the special, one of a kind _device_, the inventor designed to solve an issue so that progress in that field is furthered. If it's really good, we give you a monopoly for a limited time as a reward for sharing that with the rest of us.

    Any patents that don't follow the above should never have been granted.

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