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No, Apple is Not Competing By Lawsuit

On the heels of some notable wins against Samsung and other companies that allegedly infringed on Apple’s intellectual property, I suppose it’s natural to suggest that Apple wants to compete in the courts, rather than in the open marketplace. But suggestions of that sort are just not realistic.

First and foremost, people are buying iPhones and iPads, and Macs for that matter, not because Apple is suing tech companies in various courts around the world. It is because they already have positive experiences with Apple gear, or are persuaded that these products meet their needs.

At the same time, I don’t think too many people choose not to buy mobile gear from Samsung, HTC, Motorola or any other company targeted by Apple’s legal teams because of the possibility that they might be buying something that will someday be banned from sale. None of the injunctions Apple has requested would make any difference for products you already own. It won’t change the level of support you get from your wireless carrier or the tech company. The sale is the sale.

But that leaves the matters that Apple continues to litigate and, of course, the matters that Apple’s competitors are, in turn, using to fight back. In some cases, Apple’s competitors are complaining about industry-standard patents, which supposedly ought to be available for license under FRAND, which otherwise stands for “fair, reasonable, and non-discriminitory terms.” Now FRAND means that the company who owns the patent should seek fair license payments, whatever they are supposed to be, and give all comers the same terms. That means Apple shouldn’t pay a higher price per unit sold than other companies licensing the same patent.

Apple has already made deals with lots of companies on such terms, including Nokia, the beleaguered wireless handset company. Apple isn’t objecting to fair terms, although it appears the courts might have to decide what’s fair in many cases.

But the core of these ongoing lawsuits is all about whether other companies are building products that infringe on Apple’s patents. If they are, Apple has the perfect right to claim injury and demand they stop, or pay the appropriate license fee for using that intellectual property. Those who felt that Apple under Tim Cook would be more lenient in dealing with intellectual property issues than Steve Jobs are clearly wrong. Apple hasn’t stopped filing lawsuits.

It’s also clear that the prime offender is really Google, since most of the legal actions have been against mobile products that use the Android OS. In that sense, Samsung, HTC, and even Motorola, which is now owned by Google, have served as proxies. But Apple is coming closer and closer to their main target, particularly when they got that recent injunction against the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone. Google uses the Nexus brand name for flagship gear that is meant to deliver an unfettered Android experience. So it will be relatively free of handset maker or carrier interface changes and/or junkware. And, supposedly, a Nexus product will be eligible to receive Android OS updates, which doesn’t happen with most other products using Google’s platform.

So it comes as no surprise to see reports that Google is working with Samsung to take a united front against such lawsuits.

At the same time, Google still  earns a fair amount of cash from having a presence on the iOS and OS X platforms. Google search is still first among equals on both. It would be a trivial matter for Apple to update the OS to make Microsoft Bing or Yahoo! (powered by Bing) the defaults on new Safari, OS or hardware installations. Since most people don’t change such settings, that move would clearly hurt Google’s bottom line, at least to some extent. Apple is already moving away from Google by building their own mapping system for the iOS.

Sure, Google can state that Android consists strictly of their own inventions, and any possible imitation of iOS features is purely accidental, and is based on the fact that the patents are too general to be enforceable. But does anyone believe Android would sport a look and feel similar to the iOS if the iPhone never existed? More than likely, the Android OS would power devices with physical keyboards meant to compete with the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Windows Phone gear.

Yes, I suppose there are things that Android does better than the iOS. Yes, I realize that some of you prefer Android for various reasons, either because you feel it’s a better platform, or you don’t cotton to Apple’s walled garden.

At the same time, Apple has the perfect right to defend their intellectual property. If they don’t defend, they lose protection through inaction. That would allow anyone and everyone to mimic iOS and OS X products without fear of consequences.

Sure, I grant that the patent puzzle is a confusing mess. No doubt patents are granted far too casually on inventions that are heavily based on previous patents, or are just too general. I find the whole patent brouhaha annoying, and, other than the occasional victory, not really worth much concern. I just wish there was another way for companies to protect their inventions, assuming those inventions are legitimately theirs.