Rotten Apple

My Apple Infringment

What a “fruitilicious” weekend did we just have! A company that once shot an iconic Orwellian-themed TV ad fighting for the people against “Big Brother” corporations has succumbed to its own success and become the ultimate “Evil Empire.” A company whose founder believed that “good artists copy, great artists steal,” has hired the highest-paid IP lawyers to turn into the greatest patent troll of history. Yes, you guessed it, this post is about Apple!

I was having a quiet lunch in a favorite Viennese restaurant in Georgetown, when I saw the news flash on the TV screens. Apple had just been granted $1 billion by a California jury in a historical ruling against Samsung for copyright infringements.

I’m not a lawyer so I’m not going to analyze this decision from a legal perspective. I’ll leave that to the numerous pundits who will no doubt write about this in droves over the next few weeks. My post is going to be extremely personal. As I write this, I know I’ll raise a lot of commotion and make a lot of people (mostly fanboys whether they admit it or not) angry. However, I can’t force myself to keep silent on an issue as blatantly arrogant as this.

Apple made billions of dollars over the past 5 years selling its original iPhone and the several iterations following it, as well as the iPhone’s “Big Brother” (pun intended) — the iPad. Kudos to the Cupertino-based company for achieving this. Their forward thinking when designing the original iPhone and their marketing genius deserve the success that followed that feat.

However, despite my admiration for that success, as well as for Apple’s hits from my childhood (my first ever interaction with a computer was with the Apple ][, when I was a very little kid), I can’t help feeling appalled by Apple’s ulterior motives in suing Samsung. Instead of continuing to push the frontier in the mobile world, Apple has become entrenched in its legacy and started defending vigorously its “old laurels.”

Apple has used a simple truth about corporate strategy and marketing and turned it into the “weakest link” in its nemesis’s defense. Large and successful companies typically have competitive intelligence teams. These teams are usually housed in the Consumer Insights (or Market Research) departments and try to connect the dots between consumer needs and wants on one hand and competitors’ value propositions on the other. When such teams identify important gaps in their own companies’ offerings vs. their competitors, they highlight those to their product teams, so that said gaps be duly closed. Now, imagine Samsung doing its typical competitor intelligence. They see that people like certain features in other products, and obviously try to replicate (and exceed) that customer experience.

The trick is whether companies just blatantly copy all features and pose as a replica of the original product, or whether they try to replicate some of these features, but mixing them with other unique characteristics. I’d argue that Samsung did the latter — they closed the gaps between themselves and Apple in those areas that they deemed important, and then added their own “flavor of goodies” — i.e., unique features that were not present in their competitor’s offerings.

Unfortunately, however, people tend to neglect these general truths about business — perhaps because many of them work in completely different fields and never really experience these things first hand. So they tend to believe when a company presents the facts as if another competitor has atrociously stolen its innovations. I really liked a quote from Samsung’s lawyers immediately after the jury’s decision was announced: “[it is] unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners.” Sign of the times, my friends, sign of the times…

Before you start countering me, let me pose a question for you. When Mercedes introduced the blinkers on the side mirrors many years ago, that was a very cool feature that many drivers of other car brands dearly coveted. What did the other manufacturers do? They updated many of their next car models to have the same feature — i.e., blinkers on their side mirrors. Did Mercedes claim a “monopoly on blinkers on side mirrors?” No!

One more example. Four years ago, Audi pioneered the “Christmas tree” LED day lights design. Again, that feature was the envy of the automotive world… Until competitors caught up and started having all kinds of weird looking LED light designs on the front of their cars. Did Audi sue the others for stealing its innovation? No!

The damage has been done and the flood gates have been widely open. Apple’s victory in court has given all the patent trolls even greater motivation to keep on doing the destructive work they have been doing for years now. This also gives the “green light” to Apple fanboys for all kinds of incredible accusations. Just this morning, I read on TechCrunch about the arrogant claim that Microsoft’s new logo (revealed last week) is a cheap knockoff of Apple’s logo! What, who, how, when?!?!

At this rate, I am sure we’ll soon read or hear about claims that NYC is infringing on Apple by calling itself the “Big Apple.” In fact, by uploading my photo of an apple with a bite on one side on top of this post, I risk prompting vigilant Apple fans to claim infringement again. At least, I can try to pass the responsibility to Whole Foods who sold me that delicious apple in the first place.🙂

One thing I know for sure is that I will certainly think very hard before buying another Apple product in the future. I have been a proud owner of a number of Apple products in the past (in addition to that archaic Apple ][, I also have owned two iPods, a Mac Mini, an iPad, an Airport network hub). I even use an iPhone (but that is my company phone so I wouldn’t count it toward my personal ownership of Apple products). I am currently in the market for buying a new laptop and have spent significant time debating between the Macbook Air and the new Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. After the jury verdict on the Apple vs. Samsung case, this debate is over for me — I’ll buy the ThinkPad X1 Carbon without a blink.

What are your thoughts on this development? Do you ascribe to the arguably populist view that Apple deserves $1 billion compensation or do you see things a bit differently? Let me know in your comments.

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