March 02, 2010

Beware Apple Fanboys Interpreting Apple Lawsuits

The news this morning of Apple filing suit against HTC for allegedly infringing on 20 patents related to the iPhone is making its rounds through the Web, as Cupertino fights back against what it perceives to be unfair copying of its intellectual property. The suit, related to specific functionality of the phone, as well as user interface issues, is largely seen as Apple trying to slow the growth of Google's Android mobile OS, without suing Mountain View directly. And while precious few of us carry law degrees, and can offer deep analysis of why this suit has more merit than any other, the gut feeling is one I recognize from my decades as an Apple fanboy - Steve must be right and Go Apple!

John Paczkowski of All Things Digital explains the suit's array of patents, and which HTC phones, namely the HTC Hero, the Droid Eris, T-Mobile G1 and Google's vaunted Nexus One, are impacted by the suit.

Regardless of which mobile handset camp you sit in, the question that the iPhone dramatically changed the marketplace cannot be debated. From Apple's position, the many smartphones that have followed have increasingly approached the iPhone's previously unique capabilities, and no doubt, one must respect Apple's innovation in the space, which had previously one of compromise and mediocrity - with the possible exception of BlackBerry's product line. That Apple is allowed to protect their intellectual property is serious business, and if they truly find their work was infringed upon, then serious business says lawsuits can be required.

But that exact same voice that tells us Apple fanboys to root on Cupertino is the same one that laughed in the face of Nokia's lawsuits, which similarly claimed the iPhone infringed on ten patents of their own last fall. In that case, one can smirk and look at Nokia as a has-been handset maker who fell behind the times to a more nimble Silicon Valley legend.

Could it possibly be that Nokia's lawsuit is every bit as valid as Apple's against HTC? Ask any Mac fanboy, and the answer should be no - regardless of the visible data. In an Apple fanboy's mind, there are two eras of phone: Before the iPhone and After the iPhone. All phones prior to the iPhone are irrelevant, and all smartphones after it are mere copies.

In Silicon Valley, and many parts of the world, there is a saying: "Small companies innovate and large companies litigate." So what to make of a large company like Apple who somehow manages to innovate but plays the courtroom as well as Perry Mason? And how would the Web react if Steve Jobs and team had gone all in and filed suit against Google? Relationships and families would be torn asunder as people scrambled to choose sides. So while this morning's news makes us all raise our eyebrows, and think again about the world of innovation, patents, and business, don't expect those of us who have been drinking the holy water of Cupertino to see things on a level playing field - because when Apple is involved, they're on another field altogether.

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