Apple’s recent victory over Samsung in its long running patent dispute is remarkable. It illustrates how a company that has invented nothing of significance, can position itself as a great innovator that is being undermined and usurped by companies that are ‘slavishly’ copying its products. The surprising thing is that some people actually believe this myth.
The hypocrisy is breathtaking. This is a company that has profited immensely from using technology that was pioneered and invented by others. A false belief has been created among many of Apple’s ‘slavish’ followers that it invented touch screen technology, mp3 players and tablets. It did not. Against this background, it is amazing that Apple has the audacity to legally challenge companies which offer consumers choice in these markets. It focuses on patents that relate to relatively minor features and functions, and that are open to a very large amount of interpretation. Apple’s success has been based on its phenomenal sales and marketing capabilities. Litigation is an additional strategy tool that it is using as a way of dominating the market. If Apple gets its way, and obstructs the shipment of Android products, customer choice and innovation will be stifled and Apple will become a monopoly. Is this what Apple seeks?
There are many organizations and people that have actually invented something. Indeed, the actual inventors of the technology that Apple exploits are not benefitting in the same way as Apple. For example, the producer of the world’s first mass produced mp3 player, Saehan Information Systems (another Korean firm) is hardly known and rarely associated with this technology in the same way as Apple. CERN a great center of innovation, pioneered touch screen technology in the 1970s. Atari produced touch screen devices in the 1980s. Even in the world of smartphones, Apple was not first with touch screen technology. The LG Prada (LG is another Korean firm) was the first touch screen smart phone to be launched. Furthermore, LG has long claimed that the iPhone copied the design of the LG Prada.
In free markets, competition is one of the few ways in which genuine innovation can be encouraged. Surely the courts should be protecting the interests of the consumer from huge and powerful companies like Apple, that make large profits from their products.
Imagine if Baird (the first firm to produce televisions) had managed to slow down the launch of televisions produced by rival firms, or if Benz had managed to slow down the development of the automotive industry, perhaps by suing Ford. Maybe, Tim Berners-Lee will seek to halt the increased use of the World Wide Web without receiving huge payments from companies that exploit his invention. Note that, unlike Apple, these companies and individuals actually invented a breakthrough technology.
If innovation, competition, technology diffusion and consumer choice are to be encouraged, Apple should not be able to block the shipment of products that enhance existing technology and frequently offer better value for money. Its focus on patents that address relatively minor features and functions obfuscates its real motives.
The fact that some courts have allowed Apple to win shows that some legal jurisdictions are allowing and encouraging anti-competitive behavior. This sets a very dangerous precedent that could stifle innovation and force consumers to pay higher prices for inferior products.