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Summary:

Is Apple Tim Cook finally weary of the stress and financial toll of maintaining mobile patent suits in courtrooms around the world? In perhaps his strongest public comments yet on the mobile patent disputes, Cook made his distate for litigation clear.

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim CookThe mobile industry may soon get the patent peace it has hoped for ever since 2010, when Apple kicked off a series of lawsuits that sent Android partners scrambling. In his strongest comments to date on the mobile patent disputes, Apple CEO Tim Cook sounded weary of the toll that protracted patent litigation can take on a company and all but confirmed that Apple is thinking about a cease-fire.

“I’ve always hated litigation, and I continue to hate it.” Cook said, in response to a question during Apple’s earnings conference call regarding reports that the company is considering settlements. “We just want people to invent their own stuff.”

Apple’s decision to sue Google’s Android partners–HTC, Motorola, and Samsung–over alleged violations of Apple patents for the iPhone and iPad was driven in part by emotion, as detailed in Walter Issacson’s biography of Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs, who died last October.

“I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion [at the time] in the bank, to right this wrong,” Jobs said in 2010. “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product.”

However, as I pointed out last October, Cook is not Jobs. Apple has fought valiantly in courtrooms around the world against Android vendors, and has at times appeared to have the upper hand, but as of late April 2012, it has little to show for two years of combat. Apple has a mixed record at the International Trade Commission, and is tied up in other courtrooms over procedural questions and endless hearings.

“I would highly prefer to settle than to battle,” Cook said, but don’t expect Apple to settle easily. Cook also said that he didn’t want Apple to be the inventor for the world, and demanding steep royalties from those which it has sued could discourage others from thinking about following Apple into a market without innovations of their own.

But the sad truth is that our patent system is hopelessly broken, filled with patents of questionable value on all sides that can turn any patent dispute into a stalemate as major corporations buy patents from struggling ones to hurl at each other. With another ridiculous quarter just entered into in the history books, Apple is clearly not suffering any competitive effects from those companies whom Jobs believed stole Apple’s inventions.

It seems Cook would prefer to focus on keeping Apple’s remarkable business on track, and if he finds a way to wind down the mobile patent wars, it could be the smartest thing he does in his first full year as Apple’s CEO.

  1. Michael W. Perry Tuesday, April 24, 2012

    Tim Cook as CEO is a big plus for today’s Apple. Steve Jobs was a mad genius in both senses of the term: mad as in angry and mad as in out of touch with reality. That can sometimes work why your a slowly dying underdog. It makes you fight and take necessary chances. But it’s not good with you dominate an industry.

    I suspect Cook isn’t the only high tech executive thinking this way, merely the first to go public. It wouldn’t be a good legal strategy to talk like this if those Apple’s is engaging in court didn’t feel much the same.

    The tech industry needs to pool their patents and compete on quality and price rather than in courtrooms.

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  2. Think everyone is reading way to much into Cooks statement and putting too much emphasis on “hating” litigation. Betting he’ll continue just as aggressively as Jobs if competitors continue to copy or infringe or aren’t willing to kill features or pay huge royalties. Betting Cook is at least as aggressive a competitor as Jobs, just with a different disposition.

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    1. Be careful what you ask for — live by the sword, die by the sword. Apple got the first punch in, but I think the truth is that Cook is seeing that Google and now Microsoft are getting ready to punch back with a rather heavy hand of their own. In the end, this is a lose lose situation for all the parties involved. It doesn’t take a genius to come to the conclusion not to waste time/resources on it.

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  3. Apple can’t continue like this. They can’t steal with one hand and call foul when they feel something’s been copied. The industry has always worked best on the 1up principle, building on previous accomplishments. Palm makes touch screen PDAs with scrollable icon screens, Apple makes the iPhone based on the pda princible with built in mobile phone, Android is realeased and adds widgets, OS-level voice controls, and pull-down notification system to the mix. Apple takes the same notification system, and adds real-time weather and a nice black-fibre background), and releases Siri, a voice assistant to humanise voice commands. This is how it should be! The litigation is unnecessary, because everyone is still 1upping eachother with features. Apple is trying to destroy that with patents for obvious features like “slide to unlock”, that it should have never applied for in the first place. Apple benefits constantly from innovation across the board, but continually lies about innovating things. Usually it’s just exaggeration, but they outright lied to everyone during the iOS 5 feature video, saying that they invented Android’s notification system, when they just copied it, even the direction and the gesture, and put a nicer background on it. Did they really need to do that? Are they on so fragile a ground that they can’t just stop the patent war that Jobs started, and 1up the next set of features? It’s the sign of a stagnating and dying company. Litigation should be a last resort, and for software patents, it should be a non-issue unless people are copying CODE. No one is doing that, and Apple is the only one attempting to hold back progress. Absolutely pathetic behaviour from a company as highly regarded as Apple. Their hubris can only conclude with nemesis.

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