The 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.