Since the original iPhone was introduced, competing smartphone vendors have understood that it was light years beyond anything that they had produced. And since that day in January 2007 every company that has produced or thought about producing a smartphone has had at some level a discussion about how it could create a product that emulates the iPhone. Companies have sought to understand why the iPhone is such a runaway success and tried to rub a little bit of that magic on their own products.
It's human nature and common sense. If you are getting your brains beat out by a game-changing product, you need to figure out why and what you can do to produce something that appeals to consumers for the same or similar reasons. Otherwise, you need to pack it up and go home.
This is true in most industries. When one company introduces an innovation that changes everything, competitors must adapt or die.
The great Irish poet and writer Oscar Wilde famously said, "Good writers borrow, great writers steal." It is the same in business and in virtually any other endeavor in life. If we do not learn lessons from those who are successful, we are doomed to failure.
At the same time, we can all agree that it is fundamentally unjust for anyone to blatantly rip off and profit from the genuine innovations of others. The question is, where do you draw that line? When does admiring and emulating a competing product that is kicking your butt become intellectual property theft?
This question is central to the trial currently taking place in San Jose between Apple and Samsung. Apple revolutionized the smartphone market when it launched the first iPhone and proceeded to stomp the field. It now argues that that it has been wronged because a competitor has successfully taken a page from its book in designing its own smartphones with a similar look and functionality.
Make no mistake: everyone has tried to emulate the iPhone, whether it was spelled out in an email or not. Every smartphone worth its salt today uses touchscreen technology and is rectangular in shape. Apple did not invent either of those characteristics, but it used them to great effect and continues to laugh all the way to the bank.
If Samsung had not taken a hard look at the iPhone and asked why it was successful--and what it could do to incorporate some of the same features in its own products--the only reasonable thing for the company to do would be stop making smartphones. The same goes for any other smartphone vendor.
The San Jose patent trial has exposed the fact that our patent system is fundamentally flawed. But anyone who has been paying attention already knew that. It's also brought to light a larger question: Where is the line between learning from the success of a competitor and stealing?
We may never be able to pinpoint where this line lays, and even a completely overhauled patent system may not be able to define it. But until we know where to mark that line, there won't be justice in the Apple-Samsung case or any other instance where a company conducts a thorough analysis of a competing product and tries to top it. Related stories:
Stephan, doesn't the time limitation of a patent represent the compromise here, so that the IP originator can profit exclusively for a predetermined period of time? And then after that the free-for-all begins?
Also, I understand your libertarian impulses but I think that out of necessity you will be sourly dissapointed in the coming years. What else can America produce profitably but ideas - intellectual property.
(Note the use of the word "profitably". I fully understand that many are quite able, and too willing, to produce the by-product of bureaucrasy - paper, lots of it.)
Some things just never change. How many of you still remember Apple suing over GEM, when HP and Microsoft joined in, and the farce of the "Apple" OS for the MacIntosh was revealed. Apple is and has long been suit happy.
What HAS changed is what the USPTO is required to accept for patents. The real problem is that much (my searches have lead to a more likely conclusion of MOST) of the software and business practices "art", is not truly new but couched in obfuscated terminology to confuse the examiner to prevent his finding other prior art.
So, often the "inventor" is in fact the copier! And then he goes off with the full intent of truly stealing from others who also copied similarly. Once again, fact is often stranger than fiction.
Might we think back a little farther, say about a hundred years. Where would we now be if USPTO had granted a patent to Henry Ford or one of his competitors for a steering wheel, or the arrangement of brake, gas and clutch petals that we now accept as standard. Progress requires that some great ideas are in the public interest and every ones success requires that they be available for all to use.
I think you're completely wrong. Things like design are protected and proprietary, but none are patentable (nor should be - the fact that a phone is flat and rectangular is not 'an invention'). If you take a competent engineer who has never seen an iPhone, and you describe its operation (but omitting to describe its appearance) to him/her, that it has a touch interface which is the display, and then ask him/her to design one, they will look out the necessary chips, and displays and in the event that some of them don't already exist, design them, or at least try, since it's obvious what's necessary, and the other parts, and come up with something that very probably looks like the iPhone. They are unlikely to make the display circular or spherical. Apple's advantage was to be first. That's their market advantage. It has worked, so far. They should be content with that. Even a lot of genuine inventions become obvious once someone has made the first, without any knowledge of the actual detail. Would you have wanted Benz or Daimler to have had a world-wide 'patent' on 'the idea of' a car?
The Mac System was redesigned on top of BSD (an open source version of Unix). That redesign has since been called OSX.
OSX was slimmed down for the iPod and then used as the basis for the iPhone. When that OS was used for the iPad, they renamed it iOS and are now back porting it into OSX.
I had never heard this 'license' Apple got until recently. Since Xerox did try to sue Apple, I'm guessing this 'license' is revisionist history.
By the way, the Xerox suit was dismissed because they waited too long (i.e., they lost on a technicality, not because of the facts).
Many years ago, the IBM plug-compatible mainframe vendors forced IBM to divulge interface specifications. They even sold hardware that ran IBM operating system software. Now Apple does not allow their software (Darwin derived from BSD Unix) to run on other suppliers' hardware. Apple was sued by Exponential in 1997 for sinking their PowerPC efforts, and PA Semi were acquired, sinking their PowerPC work, with little obvious gains to Apple. Freescale and IBM were gratuitous enough not to air their side of the Apple switch from PPC to Intel. My iPhone, iPad and other computer hardware have many faults that the equivalent in the auto industry would never get away with, so while people are jumping out of buildings and Apple sits on a pile on money, they should try to fit in a little better instead of such anti-social behavior. This court case is going to really harm their business, as the real patents are the wireless ones, and here Nokia (no longer king), plus Google with their recently acquired bunch will fend off Apple. Mobile phones come an go, but the innovation in my opinion was to include the iPod into the iPhone and have an ecosystem like iTunes that worked seamlessly. It is no better than any other phone for making calls (with a camera is worse than many other phone makers').
I'm way late chiming in, but I for one see no revolutionary or unique design introduced by Apple. There is nothing that is not a natural evolution from the graphical desktop customized for touch screen and sans keyboard/mice.