Is Apple a Bully? Is the Patent System Broke? Should the FTC be doing something about this?
I have to say that having just read the verdict in the Apple vs Samsung trial I am more than a little disappointed.
The summary judgement is pretty interesting, with Samsung owing over $1B to Apple for damages. With an almost $12 stock price increase after the announcement Apple’s market cap also increases by over $1B. Does that mean I should blame Investors? Nope, but maybe I’m a bit envious that I can’t afford to be well invested in a stock that monopolizes its market and is protected by the legal system.
I’m not particularly blaming the jurors – who I’m sure followed the 100 pages of instructions and answered the 700 questions in their summary as accurately as they could in less than 3 days.
I could be disappointed that instead of a proper trial the parties were forced to race along against a 25-hour limit clock, like a chess game, forcing them to skip cross-examination and prioritize evidence in a way that no other trial has ever been done before.
I could be disappointed in the way evidence was not allowed, or prior art was ignored.
I could be disappointed by the fact that the CEOs were not able to look past their differences and settle at the last minute as instructed.
I know that it scares me and my wife that a corporation is allowed to use patents to block competition and effectively monopolize a market, limiting distribution of Samsung’s products in many markets. Where is the FTC to limit Apple and force fair trade and competition? Why attack Microsoft in the 1990’s and yet allow Apple to bully developers, book publishers, musicians, the movie industry and now the competition.
You will notice that many of the complaints raised by other software companies against Microsoft are pretty similar to the way that Apple is being anti-competitive now.
People laughed at Samsung when the iPhone vs S1 document leaked.
Just to be sure, this is the kind of competitive analysis report that any product manager is required to do to justify the work they oversee. You must analyze your competition and make judgements and comparisons. It doesn’t mean you are cloning your competition. It is hardly a smoking gun… but if it is to be judged legally as a smoking gun then it calls into question the very essence of product development and how companies make software… including Apple themselves.
For all the things that I could blame I’m very disappointed that the patent system allows this kind of abuse and has not been revamped to keep up with the rapid progress of technology. The patent system that has become useless and now is demonstrating that it is hurting more than it is helping.
There are folks who believe that the Patent System isn’t broken – referencing all the good it has done throughout history.
I don’t think people are saying the Patent System WAS bad… just that it has become a way to monopolize a market and deter competition.
Insert Patent Rant
My views on patents probably come from my experiences as a young engineer making soil and moisture instruments with computers in them – before the term “embedded systems” was even coined. I had already made software that was Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) before that term was coined, and few people know that I left my college studies to join the computer industry and become part of the innovation (Does that put me in the company of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg… maybe). I’d learned everything I needed to help invent the computer industry and didn’t need to run Cobal programs on punch cards again just to get a grade when I could program every kind of computer available at the time in either Microsoft Basic or the actual machine language of the computer. My boss at the time, Bill Mancuso, paid to have me continue classes in a variety of topics and from time to time I’d find myself back in a software engineering course with the instructor asking me “Why are you in this class? You should be teaching it.” Bill also taught me to keep everything I did written in bound composition notebooks (the kind kids keep journals in for school). When I asked why, he explained that we need to know your frame of mind and process you use to reach the conclusions you do and if you happen to invent something really important we have the work all recorded for posterity. I asked if that meant patents… his answer was that from time to time patents are important and necessary, but you should use them only when you actually have improved something to the point of it being truly new, not just built on the stepping stones of those before me. Throughout my career I’ve had the opportunity to patent many of my software and user-interface innovations. Solved problems that many thousands of people before me could not… mostly what I’ve found is that most innovation is simply clever application of principals in other disciplines, and not actually the “world changing” event that would require patenting. Long before others used “soft-keys” on cell-phones I had made them available on those embedded systems I developed. When folks needed a way to compare their instrument results with other peoples results I found a solution that was challenged by academia and soil scientists world wide… until they relized that the equation was really as simple as one of electronics basic building blocks “Wheatstone bridges” and that with simple ratios I had solved a problem with a solution that others ignored. Could I have patented it… sure… but I didn’t need to because it wasn’t actually a new solution… just a clever application of a different solution. BTW – it was only during the writing of this blog post that I found out that Sir Charles Wheatstone actually used his circuit for measuring soil properties… I think he’d be proud of what I used it for.
I share a lot of secrets… my tricks and techniques for years with people I mentor, in classes I teach, or blog posts I write. I hold a few cards close to my chest because I still want to be paid for what I do… but mostly I’m willingly share a lot of what I know.
Unfortunately for Apple the trial also revealed many of their secret plans – I wonder if that means a ripple effect on what they release and ultimately affects their stock price.
Are Apple’s patents really innovative?
- Icons arranged in a grid (as humans we naturally align and arrange things into grids).
- Rounded corners (product designers round corners so things don’t break when you drop them… and have for hundreds of not thousands of years).
- Home Button (simple designs are the very essence of good design… reaching one button is awesome… reaching no buttons is amazing).
- Rubber-banding or “bounce scroll” (this effect mimics real life devices like drawers, windows blinds, etc. Oh, and rubber bands).
- Multi-touch scroll gesture (pretty original since multi-touch is pretty new, but there are lots of people using it… did Apple do it first???).
- Green Call button with phone handset (the phone handset was invented by Bell Systems and is used on every cellphone as the “call button” – most feature phones have a green one to take a call and a red one to end a call).
- Shape of buttons/icons (Pretty much copied straight from membrane keyboards, including the highlight to simulate that they are bubbled up – as far as the specs of Apple Icons they are directly copied from the Atari 400 keyboard).
- Scroll bars (they been around for a lot longer than the iPhone… is it worth a new patent just because they fade out???)
So some people will say that I’m bashing Apple… and might wonder why. I learned a fair amount by programming my first computer the Apple ][+, and consider Steve Wozniak one my role-models… especially when it comes to software engineering and hacking code in innovative ways. I was President of the Diablo Valley Apple Users Club in the 1980’s and actually had breakfast with Scully (that is a long story, and doesn’t really reflect well on Apple). The iPhone revolutionized the mobile industry and has been my bread and butter for many years now… I’ve made money and made Apple a LOT of money with their 30% of each game item purchased in my free-to-play mobile games. My concern is that Apple has grown up to be everything it said it wouldn’t become when it was the BEST computer company in the whole world. Now Apple thinks it is better than everyone else, it can hide behind and abuse the patent system, and can’t do anything wrong… but what it really can’t do is anything without bullying a whole group of people (competitors, developers, musicians, Hollywood, book publishers…).
- Is Apple a Bully?
- Is the Patent System Broke?
- Should the FTC be doing something about this?
- All of the Above
I love the old Apple, but…