Analyst: Apple “Disrupting” iPhone Competitors With Legal Threats

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Via Apple 2.0, Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner asserts in a research note that Apple’s lawsuit with HTC over the iPhone interface was the culmination of “blunt talks” with other phone manufacturers.

According to Reiner, starting in January Apple began closed-door discussions with OEMs regarding the company’s “growing displeasure” with the theft of Apple’s intellectual property.

That displeasure was first noted a year earlier at a conference call. Apple COO Tim Cook responded to a question about the Palm Pre by stating that “we will not stand for having our IP ripped off,” though Cook wasn’t necessarily talking about Palm, or just Palm, anyway. Earlier this month, Steve Jobs publicly accused HTC of theft in a press release associated with the iPhone lawsuit. Unfortunately, that lawsuit may not ultimately protect the iPhone the way Steve Jobs thinks.

However, in the short term tough talk and legal action has, according to “industry checks” by Reiner, resulted in hardware manufacturers reassessing their positions regarding Google’s Android operating system.

Rival software and hardware teams are going back to the drawing board to look for work-arounds. Lawyers are redoubling efforts to gauge potential defensive and offensive responses. And strategy teams are working to chart OS strategies that are better hedged.

Ignoring the negative impact on consumers from stifling innovation in the name of intellectual property rights, the real-world implications of driving hardware manufacturers away from Google is that they will be going towards Microsoft. With Windows Mobile as good as dead, and Windows Phone Series 7 not to be released until the end of the year, it could have been argued that Microsoft was close to being pushed out of the mobile market entirely. Don’t count on that now.

Microsoft has been quick to sniff out this burgeoning opportunity and has begun to aggressively promote the strength of its own IP portfolio, as well as its willingness to join battle with customers that come under IP attack.

It’s one thing to threaten a relatively small company like HTC, but quite another to go after Microsoft, as Apple found out once before. While temporarily disrupting Android through lawsuits isn’t going to make that problem go away, it might just help Microsoft get back in the mobile business.

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