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Is it time for Apple’s patent war to end?

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In its fight with Android (s goog) hardware-makers, Apple(s aapl) almost seems to see itself as a noble hero fighting a nefarious villain bent on stealing its identity and reputation. But just or not, is the fight one that makes sense for Apple from a practical and business standpoint?

That’s the question Bloomberg posed in a new article that polls patent experts on Apple’s ongoing patent disputes that seem to multiply on a daily basis. The answer they come up with is that Apple might be better off taking a less extreme approach, and I’m inclined to agree.

Especially in cases like the ITC import ban against HTC and Apple’s injunction against the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Germany, 3LP Advisors LLC Managing Partner Kevin Rivette told Bloomberg that Apple is better off negotiating a settlement that would grant it some benefit in exchange for licensing its technology. Instead, Apple scores surface wins, but then the manufacturers on the losing end need only modify their design to get around the imposed restrictions.

The problem is that many of Apple’s patents focus on look, feel and design, which means they can be worked around, as in the cases mentioned above. As a result, Apple could have a hard time securing lasting, sticky restrictions that prevent its competitors’ products from being sold permanently in individual markets, let alone worldwide.

The better strategy, Rivette says, is to negotiate deals that allow Apple an inside look at competitor direction in exchange for the use of current tech. That way, Apple would be able to spot and benefit from any innovation made by others. As it is, Apple is basically forcing innovation on the part of others while doing nothing to ensure any net IP gains for itself.

Apple doesn’t have to give in, however. It has very deep pockets, and a solid armory of patents. Should it choose to, it can continue the war of attrition we’ve written about previously, in which it chips away at features and physical designs in an effort to undermine the overall consumer appeal of competing products.

But seeking to shut down the copycat competition through any means, as seems to have been Steve Jobs’ original intent in pursuing Samsung and others, doesn’t benefit Apple. Essentially, all it might really accomplish is a stagnated mobile industry, with Android spinning its wheels in cosmetic and minor changes to avoid Apple’s patent lockdowns, and Apple staying just ahead of the competition with no real impetus to achieve big, sweeping innovations.

Apple’s war on Android seems to have been Jobs’ preferred course when it came to dealing with Google’s supposed IP theft, but going after Microsoft (s msft) for committing basically the same sin with regards to Mac OS was never such a sustained and concerted effort. And I’d say that given where we are today, that worked out for the better: forced to compete outside of the realm of the PC, Apple came up with the iPod and became a driving force of mobile innovation, plus its Mac division still outpaces the PC industry by a considerable margin in terms of growth. With that in mind, isn’t it time Apple thought about calling off the dogs and instead settled in to a prolonged, productive armistice?

17 Responses to “Is it time for Apple’s patent war to end?”

  1. The only people that can stop this nonsense is the US congress. Software and design patents are stupid and issuing patents while ignoring prior art is not legal but the USPO does it anyhow.

    If all designs were patentable, builders would be so busy defending their product that we’d all be living in tents

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  3. LOL now that most of apples patent suits are being dismissed and the counter suits are about to cripple the patent troll…now you say it’s time to stop. Thats like punching somebody in the face for a while and then when you see its not stopping them and they’re about to knock your teeth in and saying ‘you know what dude violence is wrong’. apple is going to get it’s but kicked and kicked hard in court enjoy it apple…you started it and you sure as hell deserve this butt kicking

  4. “in an effort to undermine the overall consumer appeal of competing products.”

    I don’t think this is the goal at all. I think the goal is make Android unattractive to hardware manufacturers in an effort to get them to abandon Android. This would make sense, considering that Apple is only suing the hardware makers (and not Google directly). Just one man’s opinion, but I doubt any customer looking for a cell phone would pause to consider the legal situation of the manufacturer first. I estimate that very few would care.

    Moreover, and as someone that owns and enjoys many Apple products, I find these lawsuits to be — for lack of a better way to put it — a complete waste of time. As Darrell has already stated, even in Apple’s “victories” they’ve achieved nothing significant, as it is painfully easy for HTC, Samsung, Motorola, etc, to workaround the infringing technology.

    The bottom line here is that Android isn’t going anywhere, and Apple just needs to learn to play nice.

    Also, I find it rather amusing that Apple is steady racking up patents for technology they didn’t even invent (and that existed well before the iPhone/iOS), and then set out to sue any and everyone using their “innovations.” God, our (the U.S.) patent system is in the toilet…

  5. ViewRoyal

    Darrell, are you suggesting that only Apple should stop litigating against patent infringers?

    What about all other companies, should they stop protecting their patents too?

    Should any company be allowed to rip-off a competitor’s intellectual property, without legal consequence? (If this was the case, no one would spend any funds on R&D to invent new things, knowing that their competitors would benefit from their efforts.)

  6. You can’t compare the first war (Mac) with the current. Apple did pursue Microsoft but Microsoft had contracts allowing them to use a lot of the tech in the apps they had written for the Mac so it was complicated.

    Apple learned and is now much more prepared to hurt android through a thousand little cuts, not one major blow. And it’s not just Apple assaulting android, it’s also , Oracle, Microsoft and others. At some point all those roosters are going to come home to roost and cause android/Google some real pain.

    Rivette doesn’t appear to understand that Apple rarely licenses tech to others. They R&D/develop to distinguish their products from others.

    Agree with Shawn though that there’s too much being reported about the patent wars. Doubt there would be if it wasn’t android, the so called “open” platform.

  7. Not going to happen. Until there are widespread court decisions on at least the two big multitouch patents (one for scrolling either vertically, horizontally, or both deepening on how the finger moves and one for using two fingers to scroll a subwindow) they won’t slow down. If those two are invalidated then maybe.

  8. Matt Liotta

    Or, we could have the patent wars end with everyone accepting what should have been the case all along. Specifically, that IOS and Android actually be different from each other. Apple doesn’t want a monopoly; they just don’t want people to copy them. Further, consumers want choice, so manufacturers copying each other doesn’t help them. Let’s have IOS and Android compete on innovation outside of the courtroom. Then consumers will win. I bet IOS and Android will win too.

    Remember, Apple still hasn’t targeted Google directly. If this keeps us they surely will. As it stands, Microsoft is happy to keep taxing Android. They will be ecstatic to provide Bing as an offensive weapon against Google. Between Mac OS X and IOS Apple could swing a significant amount of search traffic from Google to Bing. Even a 5% swing would cost Google more than $1 Billion. Not to mention what would happen to Google’s stock.

  9. Apple has silently made patent deals with IBM and Nokia. Who knows who else Apple is negotiating with. Cook is a cooler cat and may push for settlements that benefit everyone. It could be that Google likes to appear as this poor underdog for the public hoping it will reflect badly on Apple. I think I’d like to hear more about Google trying to end this, more than putting the onus on Apple. It’s a two way street here and Apple has been able to make deals with IBM as earlier stated to prove the point that Apple is working for longer solutions. Just because you or Bloomberg aren’t aware of them doesn’t mean that they’re not going on continually. I think you’re trying to capitalize on Apple’s silence on the matter to look smart. I’m not sure you accomplish that, except for making the noisy Android camp happy by making Apple a villian.

    • I respectfully disagree. First off, as a law student with an IP interest I find it highly interesting in itself. Of those who don’t conciously care about patents, many still care about the inovations they protect. Being informed as to the corporate strategy of a company like Apple helps balance out people’s perspectives that would otherwise consist solely of Apple’s cute commercials and the cute music they generally use in them.

      If ya don’t like it, don’t read it!

      • I understand that “many” is really a very subjective term. But I think that a law student is esoteric enough that you probably fall outside the respondent’s definition of “many people”. And really, for a law student there are probably more appropriate sources of patent legalities and affects, such as Mueller’s

        By and large I agree that there is a glut of internet armchair pundits and legal analysts of the patent wars (most of which have no clue what they are talking about, regarding either patents in general or Apple patents specifically), and I mean that in the most derisive way possible. But I think GigaOM is not one of them.