Apple's Descent Into Darkness

From innovator to litigator

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As The Atlantic Wire covered yesterday, Apple has gone on the offensive, suing HTC, one of the largest smartphone manufacturers, for patent infringement. In an announcement about the lawsuit, Apple CEO Steve Jobs berated HTC saying "competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours." The suit could prohibit the importation of iPhone rivals to the U.S.

The aggressive move surprised many technology observers who have long seen Apple as an innovator--not a litigator. Does this mark a cultural sea change at the company?

  • This Is Not Like Apple, writes Philip Elmer-DeWitt: "Apple, like most large tech companies, uses the system primarily for defensive purposes. They amass a portfolio of broadly worded patents to be unleashed, like nuclear warheads, on any company that dares take them to court -- as Nokia did last October ...What's different about the suits Apple filed Tuesday... is that they amounted to a first strike -- something Apple hasn't done in patent court... since Apple vs. Microsoft."
  • Remember Xerox? asks Mike Masnick at Techdirt. "[These are] strong words coming from the guy who admits he blatantly copied the graphical user interface he saw at Xerox PARC many years ago."
  • Utterly Hypocritical, writes Brian Barrett at Gizmodo. He points to a 1996 video interview in which Jobs quotes the Picasso line "good artists copy, great artists steal." In a moment of candor, Jobs adds, "We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas":

  • Apple Will Lose Top Talent, writes Wil Shipley: "If Apple becomes a company that uses its might to quash competition instead of using its brains, it's going to find the brainiest people will slowly stop working there. You know this, you watched it happen at Microsoft. Enforcing patents isn't a good long-term play: it's the beginning of the end of the creative Apple we both love."
  • Not Evil, Just Dumb, observes John Gruber at Daring Fireball: "What worries me is that idea that Apple, or even just Steve Jobs, believes that phones like the Nexus One have no right to exist, period, and that patent litigation to keep them off the market is in the company's interests. I say it's worrisome not because I think it's evil, or foolish, or unreasonable, but because it is unwise, shortsighted, and unnecessary."
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