It's Time For Apple To Stop Patent Trolling

Intellectual property is important. There's no denying that. But there's a line between protecting yourself and just trying to kill everybody around you. It's one Apple has already crossed, and it's not doing anybody any good. Time to knock it off.

Another Apple lawsuit was smacked down today. This time a Dutch court ruled that Samsung's Galaxy Tab did not need to be banned in the Netherlands. They acknowledged that yeah, Apple had some patents, but its claims were far too broad. It's another in a string of losses, each of which costing Apple and its target money and temporarily costing consumers a competitive playing field. Look, Apple has every right to defend its intellectual property, but at this point it's turned into a war of attrition.

These frivolous lawsuits are bad for Apple, too. Yesterday, Dan Lyons reported that Apple blew a cool $US100 million on their first lawsuit against HTC. What did they get for it? In the immortal words of Chris Farley, "JACK SQUAT." Apparently HTC already has a simple workaround that will allow them to escape the patent infringement charges. Meanwhile, Apple is out $US100 million. Yes, to a company as gigantic as Apple that's a small piece of the pie, but the kind of R&D that $US100 million can buy anybody is mind-boggling. Would that money not be better spent on truly pushing the limits of innovation? Isn't that a better way to compete?

This is Steve Jobs's war. Steve Jobs was inspired, passionate and courageous. He also wanted a "thermonuclear war" with Android. Thermonuclear wars are awesome in video games. In real life, they are horrible for everyone, the provenance of only the craziest James Bond villains. Jobs's war was in the courtroom, sure, but the destructive potential is real: huge expenses, fewer devices, less choice.

There's undoubtedly pressure at Apple HQ to carry on that fight, but it's ultimately hurtful. Not just for the industry or for Apple, but for you and me. The consumers. The people whose day to day lives are made better by innovation.

Apple is never going to beat Android through ankle-biting lawsuits. If they want to win, they need to adapt and innovate faster. That's not some half-baked theory of mine, it's Darwin, and you see it in technology all the time (hello BlackBerry). Averaging two major updates a year, perhaps Android's biggest strength is how fast it can adapt and evolve. If HTC can find an easy workaround, everyone else will, too. That's how species survive.

Apple: you make a lot of great stuff. You have a huge market share. You're not in any danger right now. Forget overly broad interpretations of even broader patents — that's where you've been. Look to where you're going. If you want to win, blaze a trail into the future and leave everyone else scrambling to catch up. Keep looking over your shoulder and someone will pass you on the other side.


Comments

    Thanks for voicing most sane peoples opinion. The patent system needs to be reworked, no more broad patents or attempting to patent a existing technology to a mobile or other specific platform because you implemented it first.

    I came expecting some inane rant, and finished reading the article thinking, "Precisely".
    Nicely worded.
    Hopefully sanity prevails, having said that, Samsung's Galaxy line ARE blatant iPhone lookalike rip-off's (so much so that when I went shopping for my Galaxy S, I actually mistakenly picked up an iPhone 3GS in store and it took me a few seconds to realise!). As such, I think they deserved getting hauled through the courts.
    So hopefully sanity prevails at Samsung too and they start designing their own style for future models.

      *looks at my Galaxy S2*.... *looks at wife's iPhone 4*..

      Ahh what? They look nothing alike... not even in the same ballpark.

        Good observation, you only missed one salient thing - he specifically mentioned the 3GS and he is 100% correct in his observation. I really don't like the look of the older iPhones and would never consider anything that looked as much like them as most Galaxy phones do (and some Motorolas).

          Still looks nothing like the Galaxy S2.. my point is that he is saying that Samsung needs to change.. but they already have.. he pointed at the entire Galaxy series, not a specific Galaxy handset.. The Galaxy S (not S2) looks similar.. but hardly close enough to mistake the two... even then, the Galaxy "series" in comparison with the iPhone don't look alike enough to mistake them.

          I *own* the 3GS and the SII. I am looking at both of them right now, on my desk top. They are NOTHING alike apart from being rectangular and having a glass screen. The SII is larger, thinner, squarer, and lacking a metallic bezel. It is also a far more capable device.

          Here's a visual reference (with a whiteboard eraser that is also black and rectangular), for discussion. :p http://www.321cheese.com/img_BpgnaQYy8eZ2.png

      Yeah, but my breville toaster is just like my mates sunbeam toaster, and my miele gas stove is just like my mums highland gas stove. Not to mention my telstra home phone was just like my neighbors optus home phone, you know buttons with numbers and a thing you pick up and hold next to your face.

      Computers are computers, smart phones are smart phone, I have an iPhone etc but really wish apple would just shut the f up and try to compete with a better product not just try and hog the ball. D-bags. PS Siri is a piece of crap, they should spend the 100 mil on getting it out of beta...

    I've heard in the past that Steve Jobs actually use to read Gizmodo... I hope there is still someone there at Apple reading this stuff because they need to see what this childish behavior is doing to their reputation.

    No point of having patents unless you are willing to enforce them.

    Also any legal proceedings will delay the launch of a product into the market, giving apple a head start.

      Actually not true. Banking patents until everybody has already implemented them for years is a better strategy, and defines "trolling" - apple is actually using patents as intended - "soon" (within some years for patents) after full grant enforce your rights. Trolling is actually characterised by the selling and buying of nearly out of date patents for the purposes of licence revenue extraction, not to prevent competitors copying products. The best historical example for trolling to me is the GIF patent - two years from its expiry a start-up I worked for was hit-up for hundreds of thousands of dollars because we dared to use web apps with gif icons - THAT is bad and is trolling. We changed to PNG straight away, but STILL has to pay due to "historical damages" on a product that was barely out of beta - nice ...

      There are many ways of dealing with patent infringements and other companies are able to negotiate deals without taking all and sundry to court. Microsoft make good money from Android, for instance, because they negotiated royalties on their infringed patents. To me that seems to be the sensible, grown-up way to deal with these issues.

      The problem is with worthless patents, designed solely to amplify the Reality Distortion Field of Steve Jobs' insanity and madness. Why do you think Apple hoards all this cash? Ammo to bribe officials and brainwash the media. Pure and simple.

      However, in fact, legally Apple is losing all their frivolous legal actions, because of lack of substance to these so called patents.

      Ridiculous stuff such as:
      "slide to unlock" --> Did you know that Apple's patent on the lock screen is just a patent that describes 'moving your finger in a pre-defined path to unlock the device'.

      Prior art anyone? For instance the Windows CE Neonode N1M from back in 2005. http://www.androidcentral.com/apple-granted-patent-slide-unlock-even-though-it-existed-2-years-they-invented-it

      Proof? Google: Windows phone slide to unlock

      No wonder all these patents bought through bribery of the USPTO all fall flat when challenged in any court of law, with respective jurisdictions all over the world.

      ~~~~~~~~~~
      The hardest tumble a man can make is to fall over his own bluff.
      ~ Ambrose Bierce, 1842-1914, American Author/Editor/Journalist

      Listen to all, plucking a feather from every passing goose, but follow no one absolutely.
      {Chinese Proverb}

    Here is a thought - one of steve's strengths was his ability to be absolutely certain of his ideas until the moment he changed his mind, which he could do in an instant. Apple has a bunch of "settings" including this patent war that come from just before his death - how soon can apple change direction now he is gone? A real problem I suspect - not all his "last settings" are good. It is going to be an interesting time at apple... I would not want to be the first employee to insist in "killing" one of steve's "brilliant legacy ideas".

    If Apple did win this patent nonsense and stopped everyone from building products, we'd end up having to pay for that insanity because they will then have a monopoly. Monopolies are a bad thing, and they should be stamped out. I hope Apple does read LH and Giz and all the other tech sites out there, because the people are angry, at least the non fanboys are! Start competing openly and stop trying to kill the opposition!

    Tune in for next week's exciting episode of "Gizmodo tells you how to run your multi-billion dollar business", where we'll make more recommendations to a market leading company who will completely ignore us and be massively successful anyway!

    Buy seriously - Dan Lyons?

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

        This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

    The bigger these companies get the less they give a rats arse about morals & acting in the general publics best interests , Apple are far & away the worst but all seem to be tared with the same brush, so much for mutual co-operative universal standard systems where innovation transcends singular proprietry interests.
    Heres to the day people refuse to be constrained by mega companies attempts to monopolise their technology,
    Seems like all the juganaughts deliberately impose & cause universality to be trashed to the point whereby google microsoft apple norton etc instill deliberately confusing incompatability issues & systems into their software in a stupid attempt to rule the roost so to speak , yes it is frustrating & rediculous in the extreme & people are rightly getting suitably pisst off with it.

    This is why iI dropped apple and all of it products, Even made the wife sell her iPod.
    I cannot support a company that displays these ethics, In the end it just hurts progess the spirit of the patent system was never to hinder inovation but to support it and help it grow...

      So...you made your wife sell her music player because you didn't want to give money to Apple anymore. They already have your money, they could care less about what happens to your wife's iPod (and now she needs to buy a Sandisk Clip or something).

        No problemo with your music collection taken hostage by iTunes on anything and everything. Just use doubleTwist.

        Proof? Google: doubleTwist

        http://doubletwist.com/about/#why

        Why we're here

        We started doubleTwist because we were disappointed by the quality of software applications offered by the major device manufacturers.

        Our vision is simple: to create a unifying media platform that enables consumers to organize and enjoy their music, photos and videos across all their home devices.

        We feel that just like you don't use a different browser for every web site you visit (Firefox to read the NY Times, IE to stream Hulu, Chrome to browse YouTube, etc) you shouldn't have to use iTunes for Apple products, Nokia software for Nokia phones, Sony software for Sony products, etc. The typical household today has many such devices and there is a need for a simple and powerful software that connects them.

        ~~~~~~~~~~
        The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.
        ~ James Branch Cabell, 1879-1958

        The world belongs to optimists. Pessimists are only the spectators.
        ~ Francois Guizot, French Philosopher

        The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
        ~ Winston Churchill, 1874-1965, English Politician and

    I blame the patent authority – allowing these companies to place patents on such ridiculous things. At the end of the day, all touchscreen smartphones are going to resemble one another as it’s the only practical design.

    Apple's just taking advantage of a weakness in the patent system itself. Namely, that you can patent just about anything and it's up to your competitors to demonstrate that the registered patent has no value. Unfortunately this itself involves a level of risk that few are keen to bear.

    I switched to Windows Phone from iPhone because i was sick of their patent wars.
    No doubt someone on here will reply blasting Microsoft for their practices.
    I still have a mac. Probably won't get rid of that. But still..

    In the 1980s Kodak was forced by the US government to not protect its patents against Japanese optics companies. See how well that turned out.

    In the US, a judge ruled that a computer making a copy of software to put it into the RAM, was making an unauthorised copy of the program, and infringing IP laws. The government had to fix what this judge screwed up.

    I'm surprised Apple hasn't tried to patent the rectangle yet...

    Pretty sure patents are there to promote innovation, not blatant copying. Apple has every right to go after those companies who are copying their ideas.

    Before the iPhone came out every popular phone had a fixed keypad and crappy os packed full of rubbish apps from the carrier. Once the iPhone came out it changed everything... They demonstrated ideas that no other company had shown interest in before. Android was actually being developed to compete with Blackberry, and quickly changed everything to compete with the iPhone.

    Before the iPad came out tablets were large, clunky... And weren't worth the money. Again, Apple came out with the iPad and that changed everything. Look at samsungs galaxy tab and tell me that the iPad didn't inspire their design. All of these devices are just cheap knockoffs of apples products that they spent a great deal of time inovating... Now why can't other companies try coming up with their own game changers. All I can see is apple inovatingand everyone else copying.

    There needs to be stronger control against a company's intellectual property... to support innovation, not copying.

    Oh, by the way,... When a name has an 's' at the end, like Jobs, the correct punctuation to show ownership is Jobs', not Jobs's.... But I suppose we should expect this from a sub-par blog.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now