While Tuesdays are known for Apple (s aapl) product launches, today the company announced not a new Mac but a lawsuit over patent infringement related to the iPhone. The target was mobile phone maker HTC, and none other than Steve Jobs was making the accusations.
“We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”
At issue are some 20 patents relating to the “iPhone’s user interface, underlying architecture and hardware,” though specifics have not yet been divulged, nor has there been a response from HTC. More details will undoubtedly be made public as the lawsuit proceeds in both the U.S. District Court in Delaware and with the U.S. International Trade Commission.
Nonetheless, the accusation of intellectual property theft over handheld device patents sounds oddly familiar, except it wasn’t Apple making the accusation recently, but Nokia.
In December, Nokia sued Apple over patents relating to standards covering “wireless data, speech coding, security and encryption,” accusing Apple of “attempting to get a free ride on the back of Nokia’s innovation.” Apple promptly countersued, General Counsel Bruce Sewell also using the S-Word, stating that “other companies must compete with us by inventing their own technologies, not just by stealing ours.”
If this all sounds harsh, it is. The flurry of patent lawsuits and counter-lawsuits is something of an anomaly, in that companies like Apple, HTC, and Nokia normally use their massive patent portfolios to protect themselves from litigation. It’s like the concept of nuclear weapon stockpiles and mutually assured destruction (MAD), but with lawyers. What’s got Apple and others pushing the red button now is nothing less than the future of personal computing. As portability moves from the laptop to the handheld, companies like Apple apparently feel the potential legal fallout is worth the risk.