The end of what has become a rather odd three part series is upon us. You may recall that I originally went on a very angry rant about Apple suing HTC in an attempt to remove them from the market. After going through it I posted a followup article explaining (a little more calmly) the logic I had used to justify my outburst. Rather annoyingly, I’ve always been one of those people who don’t like oddities. I like knowing why things happen. Something doesn’t smell right with Apple’s new policy of suing every company that starts with a letter; it is very un-Apple of them. So I come here before you to explain why I think Apple is quickly becoming a patent troll rather than the prestigious company that I honestly looked up to a few years ago.
What is Patent Trolling?
First, let me define what a patent troll is for those of you that are unfamiliar with the word. The first three definition on Google are:
A Patent Troll is a pejorative term used for a person or company that enforces its patents against one or more alleged infringers in a manner considered (by the party using the term) unduly aggressive or opportunistic, often with no intention to manufacture or market the patented invention.
A person, company, or entity that uses acquired patents in order to use overly aggressive legal actions in hopes of preventing competing firms from entering the market. The company will often use older patents that are nearly outdated or have generic wording in order to pursue patent infringement on ideas that are at best moderately related.
or (my personal favorite)
A company that spends more time enforcing patents than bettering their consumers.
The first one seems very “official” (and after further checking is the one used on Wikipedia), the second seems more of an economist’s idea, and the third one seems like a realist’s idea. I think all of them have their merit though.
If the shoe fits…
So now that you know what a patent troll is, how dare I claim that Apple is a patent troll? I’ll debunk the different parts of these definitions first (using the often read arguments) so you understand that while I understand what you’re saying, I still think you’re wrong.
I would like to thank three of my good friends that are die hard Apple fans for responding to the definitions in defense of Apple. Especially since they know I’ll be able to refute their claims publicly while they won’t get the same opportunity; very classy. I’ve kind of meshed up their responses and taken into account several others that I’ve read on various news sites in order to get a better understanding of the “Apple isn’t Patent Trolling” opinion in this debate.
1. “…unduly aggressive or opportunistic…”
Apple is not being overly aggressive about suing these companies. They patented some of their ideas and are preventing other companies from stealing them.
2. “…often with no intention to manufacture or market the patented invention.”
Apple is using the patents that they are suing over! Touch screen interface? Hello!
3.”…use overly aggressive legal actions in hopes of preventing competing firms from entering the market.”
Apple isn’t trying to prevent other companies from making phones. They just don’t want them copying iOS. Make your own software, it’s that simple.
4. “The company will often use older patents that are nearly outdated or have generic wording in order to claim infringement on ideas that are at best moderately related.”
Copying the look and feel of the iPhone is hardly an outdated patent and it directly relates to Android phones. The Galaxy S II is a straight knock off of the iPhone.
5. “…spends more time enforcing patents than bettering their consumers.”
Apple has worked on iOS 5, the iPhone 5, their cloud service and so many other things that this definition is poorly correlated at best. If anything, Android spends more time defending itself from Apple than coming up with new ideas [insinuating they just copy].
Alex would not let me use only part of his response to 5 (and his was by far the best) so yes, that last part has to be in there.
Yes! My turn for some list-y goodness.
1. There are two reasons that I feel Apple fits this part of the definition. First off all, seeing as Apple is suing every “major” Android manufacturer in the US right now, you have a hard case telling me that’s not overly aggressive. People don’t realize that the majority of these alleged infringements are not software related at all (so the “they’re all using Android which copied iOS” argument holds even less ground here). Apple is throwing different lawsuits at so many different companies I find it impossible to keep up. They’re suing HTC for this, Samsung for that, Motorola for this, whatever. The sheer number of lawsuits Apple is currently pursuing makes me believe they’re not taking some calculated approach to protect their IP. Secondly, the majority of the patents in question were bought by Apple, not created by them. I know this is how the technology industry works (currently), but to claim that they are protecting their own innovations is just silly.
2. This one I agree with (however, I would point to the word “often”). Apple is using most, if not all of the patents it is calling into question currently.
3. Apple is not in the market for licensing their IP. In fact, as a company they flat out don’t. Apple is currently looking for an injunction to prevent Samsung from selling the Galaxy S II in the United States (we’ll come back to why later). That seems to fit the definition outlined in the quotes pretty well if you ask me. They will probably look to do the same thing with HTC.
4. I won’t argue that the Galaxy S II bears a heavy resemblance to Apple’s golden child, but it doesn’t address the matter at hand: Some of the patents Apple is suing over are absolutely ridiculous. A simplified overview of some of my favorites are: using a gesture to unlock the phone, being able to select/distinguish phone numbers in text, the 4×4 icon layout that makes up the iPhone’s home screen, the ability to use the term “App Store” (yes, the last one is technically a trademark, but it still holds relevance). Apple has so many generic patents (how they were ever awarded them is beyond me) that it would be damn near impossible for anyone else to be able to enter the market with their own OS. The only reason Apple isn’t suing Microsoft is because they aren’t a threat (but that is for later…shh) and Microsoft has a large enough IP Portfolio that it would crush Apple in the ensuing counter suit. Yes, Windows Phone 7 infringes on half of the lawsuits (if not more) that Apple is suing various Android companies for. Where’s that lawsuit?
5. While I’m sure that Apple is putting plenty of time and money into creating new things, I don’t think you would have to exaggerate it too much to see a sudden drop off of “new ideas” from Apple while they’re legal office has suddenly increased output ten fold. iOS 5 brought absolutely nothing new to the table. I’m sorry, but it didn’t. It may have improved on various implications of other operating systems, but Apple did not bring anything to the table the world hadn’t already seen. Again, I’m sure that the time it took to code and implement Android’s notification system on iOS was greater than what the lawyers are clocking in now, but the ideology definitely seems fair.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”
So why is Apple suddenly becoming a patent troll? To be quite honest, I think it is fear. For those of you that don’t know, the iPhone is Apple’s biggest source of income; and not just by a marginal value. This graph (thanks Ars Technica) shows you just how important the iPhone is to Apple.
Clearly Apple has a lot invested in their iPhone. When half of your company’s revenue is based on one device you bet your bottom dollar that company will scratch and claw when that ship appears to be sinking. Apple isn’t known for Patent Trolling; they’ve never needed to be. They still made ridiculous profits selling their computers to only 10%-15% of the market in 90′s. However, once the iPhone rose to the top of market (technically the iPhone has never been ahead of #2, but RIM doesn’t count for the sake of this argument) Apple realized that smartphones were the way of the future. They’ve clearly adjusted their business model to making a lot of money off of the iPhone. However, now that the iPhone looks to be losing market share to Android, Apple suddenly found a lot of problems with Google’s mobile platform. Apple now clings to their title of largest smartphone manufacturer, largest single selling phone, and most revenue like a child to a toy he knows his parents are about to take away. The latter of those three will probably always reside with Apple, but those first two are starting to make several stock investors squirm.
Now, look at this graph. Notice the one company that has shown the most growth in the past year. Now guess who Apple started these lawsuits with/is attacking the strongest. The answer to both of those? Samsung. Apple is scared of Samsung and for good reason. Samsung’s growth this past year has been ridiculous. On top of that, many analysts think the Galaxy S II may sell better internationally than the iPhone. Yes, one Android phone could outsell the iPhone (who hear remembers the “it takes 10 Android phones to outsell 1 iPhone” baseless argument?). Do you know how many Apple fanboys that statement keeps up at night? Just look at some of the news articles that published some of those analysts’ opinions (yes, there were multiple). The comments are the most deliriously insane things I’ve ever read. Why? We all know it could happen. In a month, the Galaxy S II has sold 5 million units. Not super impressive considering the iPhone’s sales, but close enough to still to make Apple worry. Even better: The Galaxy S II had not been released in the two largest markets either. The S II was just (as in this week) released in China, the worlds largest market, and is still yet to be released in the US where the anticipation is similar to an iPhone release. Do I expect the S II to best the iPhone 4 (and possibly 5?). No. Would I be surprised if it did? Not particularly. But the fact that it is even coming close is making Apple sweat. That’s only one company. HTC Android sales haven’t been as successful as Samsung, but have are growing at rates that far surpass what most people expected. Add in several more and Apple has justification to check the closet for the Android monster before it gets tucked in.
All of this falls on a single question: If Apple felt that so many Android devices infringed on its patents, why didn’t they enforce them earlier? This is the reason why I now believe Apple is trolling. Back when they were able to mock Android sales, its market share, or even its app/developer support they didn’t care what it did. The iPhone was still the king. But in typical Apple fashion (which, depending on how you view things could be good or bad), Apple decided it would ride on its tried and true formula. iOS 4 didn’t bring too much innovation to iOS. iOS 5 brought even less. All of that time Apple spent mocking its opponent for being smaller while its opponent spent time getting bigger. It reminds me of my track days; you never could get too comfortable with your spot on top because someone was always gunning for that varsity spot. While Apple rolled in money, Google (and their manufacturers) spent time improving Android and the overall experience.
As Apple finally listened to users and added the ability to change your background, Android added 4G possibilities.
As Apple made their device a millimeter slimmer, Android brought us 4.0″+ screens.
As Apple finally listened to people and added a better notification system, Android added a dual screen device.
As Apple finally allowed users to pull the plug on iTunes, Android brought about dual core devices.
As Apple finally added native Twitter integration, Android continued to solidify native multiple app (including Twitter) integration.
Apple fell behind on innovation, and now it is trying to use lawsuits to catch itself back up. The fact of the matter is Apple brought this smartphone race to the world. The iPhone is still the device that I consider the most innovative of its (if not all) time. Android wouldn’t be here as it is without it. However, Apple stopped after that. Rather than being like Android and trying new and different things they focused on improving things that shouldn’t have taken years to fix. Will I ever want a dual screen phone? Probably not. But at least someone tried it. I would much rather be disappointing sitting in keynote hearing about some radical, innovative, new device that doesn’t appeal to my personal interest than be told that while that happened, my company spent the past year figuring out a way to let users change their background. The fact that people stood up and applauded when Steve Jobs announced the ability to take pictures by using the volume button in iOS 5 baffles me. If any other company reported that as a main feature it has worked on for the past year they’d be laughed at. Honestly, that would be lucky to make the presentation of an Android or WP7 keynote at all, let alone be a major point. And cropping photos? Again, a cool feature to be sure, but that is something that is added in the “oh yeah, there are couple of small improvements” category, not the “these will totally redefine your experience” one.
Apple has a way of refining things that no other company can even come close to replicating. Unfortunately, that means their fan base takes everything they say like it is the end all be all. Maybe other companies need to innovate more to be able to compete with Apple’s notoriously dedicated following? Whether that be true or not, I wish Apple would leave the other companies alone. I don’t care that your most dedicated followers will believe you if you tell them that making your device a hair-width thinner will change how they experience technology. I don’t care that you can rip off an entire notification system and convince your followers that it’s “innovative.” And frankly, I don’t care what the next iPhone looks like. I do care that you’re trying to prevent other companies from trying new things since you don’t seem to like to. It’s not the Apple way to try something completely new that may or may not fail. Apple will only release something they know will work. But that doesn’t mean that every other company should have to abide by the same ideals.
I want Android to push the envelope.
Not follow the trends and make it nicer.