After Palm showed off its new Pre smartphone, including the device's multitouch interface, at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, Apple made some threatening noises
about how it would go after anybody who "ripped off" its intellectual property. As always, we didn't see how this would benefit anybody in the marketplace, since competition pays benefits to consumers, and drives participants, even Apple, to continually innovate and improve their products. Now, a wireless industry analyst has called Apple's threats into question
. He makes the point that a long, drawn out IP fight won't help Apple's business in the long run: "Building on the company's legacy as one of the greatest innovators in the technology industry may be a smarter business model than taking on the rest of the industry in a battle that may be impossible to win."
His reasoning is twofold: first and most obviously, Apple stands to gain more by competing in the market than competing in the courts. Second, he says that if Apple went ahead with patent suits, it may not be able to win them. He says that it appears that much of Apple's multitouch IP portfolio is based on work from a couple of its employees -- who also were granted a number of multitouch patents while they were employed by the University of Delaware. The University holds those patents, while the analyst also found a lot of potential prior art he says could threaten the Apple patents' validity if they're reviewed. So if Apple realizes the patents may not stand up to a review, it could explain the bluster; but once it's clear the threats are empty, they hold no value. The question now seems to be how long Apple will try to play out the show, and how many resources it will throw at it that would be better spent on developing its products.