Full-out patent war against an equally matched competitor means mutually assured destruction … so large companies inevitably settle and use their patents to keep new innovators out.
As if to prove my point, Fortune quotes Oppenheimer’s Yair Reiner who says that is exactly what is happening:
Starting in January, Apple launched a series of C-Level discussions with tier-1 handset makers to underscore its growing displeasure at seeing its iPhone-related IP [intellectual property] infringed. The lawsuit filed against HTC thus appears to be Apple’s way of putting a public, lawyered-up exclamation point on a series of blunt conversations that have been occurring behind closed doors.
“Our checks also suggest that these warning shots are meaningfully disrupting the development roadmaps for would-be iPhone killers. Rival software and hardware teams are going back to the drawing board to look for work-arounds. Lawyers are redoubling efforts to gauge potential defensive and offensive responses. And strategy teams are working to chart OS strategies that are better hedged.”
The winner in this battle is not just Apple, but any market leader with patent portfolios to back up their products:
Our checks indicate that Microsoft has been quick to sniff out this burgeoning opportunity and has begun to aggressively promote the strength of its own IP portfolio, as well as its willingness to join battle with customers that come under IP attack.
If you believe that Apple’s patents are justified, I suppose you think that all this is just justice being done. As someone who works in the mobile application development market, I respectfully disagree and offer two observations:
If the purpose of patents is to encourage inventors to introduce new products to market, why do they always seem to end up being used by market leaders to keep new competitors out?
Visit an AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon store near you. Are the Android, and Palm phones merely clones of market leaders Apple, Microsoft of Blackberry? Or do they all advance the state of the art? Their designs are the result of extensive (and expensive) research. Yes, to some extent, insights that were introduced by Apple have been incorporated in the next generation. But those insights are ideas whose time has come, much as Apple spearheaded, but did not invent the graphical user interface. This process is happening within one-two year cycles, not the 20 year monopoly granted by patents. If patents were enforced with complete effectiveness, we’d all be using 1990-era phones. How would that serve inventors?