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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.


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