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 @ 9:10am

    RE: AC it's worse than you make it out to be.

    I believe that you are way too focused on patent lawsuits and have overlooked the myriad of ways that patents allow people to extort income from others backed with the full force of the U.S. Government.

    You state that many patent suits fail due to improper disclosure. That's closing the barn door not only after the horse has left, but after the horse's entire linage has died of old age and the barn itself has rotted to a foundation and a few barely standing timbers.

    Fighting a patent suit costs $2 million plus. Do you have a couple dozen _million_ dollars just burning a hole in your pocket to fight this? Even then there's no guarantee you'll succeed. Just look at East Texas. Even if you do succeed, you probably still have many _years_ of litigation and appeals ahead of you.

    The bigger question is _why_ were they granted _in_the_first_place_? I would wager that if you take any dozen or so 'business method' or software patents and have someone try to _build_ the described _invention_, they would fail. Heck, I would doubt that they could even get started. These aren't about documenting innovative designs they are about preventing others from doing basic things without paying the patent holder. If what you said was actually true, there would be no software patents, no method patents of any kind.

    You present many stats about the number of patents in the U.S. and compare them to the number of law suits to reach the conclusion that patents haven't devolved into "...a government sponsored method of forcing money from completely unrelated people and companies.." There are a couple of glaring flaws with that logic.

    First, you discount the number of other ways patents are used to extract money from people other than law suits, from forced 'licensing deals' to chilling effect that these bogus patents have forestalling any competition and allowing you to charge monopoly prices.

    Second you artificially reduce the percentage of patents to law suits by including 'traditional patents' in that calculation. A more illuminating comparison would be the type of patent law suit by patent type. How many patents are there by type? Traditional patents "an actual invention" vs what would have been traditionally not patented patents "one's that don't specify an actual invention" [use the criteria from my previous post]. Then compare the number of law suits involving traditional patents to those involving non-traditional patents. You're results will differ markedly from the 2.6% you've calculated above.

    Bottom line: Way too many 'patents' have been and are still being granted for things that _never_ should have gotten patent protection. People and companies are using (mainly) these non-traditional patents to extract monies and other advantages from completely unrelated parties. The process is causing untold collateral damage. Expecting people wronged to spend years and millions of dollars trying to correct this injustice is something only someone benefiting from the current dysfunctional state of affairs would even suggest.

    If the patent office can't stop granting patents that never should have been granted to begin with (and I don't mean one or two, I mean whole categories of subject matter) and doesn't invalidate them en mass, then they should just be abolished.

    The societal benefit from traditional patents no longer out way the harm caused by the proliferation of 'non-traditional' patents.

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