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 @ 11:54am

    Re: Re: Re: Patents probably should be gotten rid of at this point.

    "Without an adequate disclosure, the patent is essentially void.

    If only this were actually followed. But it's not."

    Question: How often is it not followed?

    "Fortunately, your statement is wrong. Consider that there are about 7.5 million patents in the U.S. Consider that there are about 2,700 patent litigations started each year.

    Is this Lonnie? We had a commenter here a while back who used to make this argument all the time, and it's ridiculous. It ignores all of the ways that bogus patents are used to pressure people into paying up or licensing even without a lawsuit being filed. Given the expense of a lawsuit, it's much more likely that companies just pay up."

    Again, how much are we talking about? There are tons of companies that essentially say, "sue me." The number of law suits appears to have gone down. If they have been replaced with other things, how about some evidence of just how often this is happening?

    "Indeed, there has been a marked downward trend in patent litigation awards, and evidence that the courts are planning further trends.

    Yes. Because of the huge awards the courts have been granting, most companies extorted in this manner know that it's cheaper to just pay up, which perpetuates the cycle."

    Ummm...it appears that the "huge awards" are getting slashed, and significantly. I think I saw somewhere (no need to provide a link because no one else here is bothering to provide any actual numbers) that the average award, when a case gets to trial, is somewhere around $3.4 million.

    Now, that may be a "huge award" if your company makes a few million a year, but that kind of award would make a small company simply go belly up, so we have to be talking about larger companies.

    It seems unlikely that an award that small would be more than annoying. Also consider that the average award has been decreasing steadily. Is it any wonder that Ocean Tomo has had a hard time getting bidders at its patent auctions? The use of patents as a money grab, rather than incentivizing invention, may not be gone, yet, but it is most assuredly declining. As it declines, more companies will see the benefit in fighting in court - even though the number of lawsuits has been on the decline.

    http://www.patentlyo.com/patent/2010/03/federal-courts-closely-scrutinizing-and-slashing -patent-damage-awards.html

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