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More on Patents, Apple, Evil and Hypocrisy
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jducoeur
Thanks to laurion for pointing me at John Gruber's excellent article about patents, and the Apple / HTC case in particular. It's a little long, but well worth the read: it is a very measured examination of the concept of software patents, which essentially comes to the conclusion that, while software patents are legitimate in principle, the majority of them are for the wrong thing -- patents on relatively vague ideas, not really on novel and innovative implementations as they should be.

He then goes over to the Apple vs. HTC smartphone case, and makes some of the same points I did last week, but also points out that this whole thing doesn't smell like a legal dispute, but like a personal one: that Steve Jobs appears to be personally aggrieved that Apple's design concepts are being taken up by other companies. Frankly, I think he's probably right: this patent suit violates the industry norm of patent detente, so one suspects there has to be a reason for that. I'd guess that Jobs is taking a lot of (justifiable) pride in Apple's design skill, and is lashing out at the companies that have built off of it.

Which on the one hand is understandable; but on the other, is the *rankest* hypocrisy I've seen in some time. Those of us who have been around a while remember what turned Apple from a hobbyist's company into a powerhouse -- the introduction of the Macintosh, most of whose ideas were directly ripped off from Xerox. Yes, Apple put it all together well, and did a great job of marketing it, but let's be clear: most of what was regarded as innovative in the Mac was stuff that Xerox PARC had been cooking up over the previous decade, and sharing pretty freely. (This is why many of us snorted when Apple got huffy about the introduction of Windows: most of what they were complaining about, they hadn't invented in the first place.)

All of which just strengthens my feeling that this move crosses my personal "evil" line, at least for the software industry. Apple appears to have forgotten their own roots as a company that took the great design ideas of others and built on them: now that they *are* the great design laboratory, they are trying to prevent just the kind of sharing that created them, and which helps the industry to thrive.

(Really, I want to see a parody ad, with The Apple Guy as a cranky old man, lashing out at the new kid in his yard...)

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"Apple appears to have forgotten their own roots as a company that took the great design ideas of others and built on them: now that they *are* the great design laboratory, they are trying to prevent just the kind of sharing that created them, and which helps the industry to thrive."

Most large organizations try and stamp out whatever allowed them to come into existence, as a way of discouraging competition. Most of them don't pay attention to the health of the ecosystem in which they are embedded; but they *do* pay strong attention to their market share inside that ecosystem. Even if their actions tend towards the shrinkage or eventual destruction of the ecosystem.

Most large organizations try and stamp out whatever allowed them to come into existence

E.g., democracy.


John Gruber is one of my favorite Apple pundits. He's thoughtful, comprehensive, and doesn't subscribe to blind fandom. He congratulates Apple when they get things right, and condemns them when they get things wrong, as in this case.

Those of us who have been around a while remember what turned Apple from a hobbyist's company into a powerhouse -- the introduction of the Macintosh, most of whose ideas were directly ripped off from Xerox.

Xerox was part owner of Apple when that happened, and made good money off that deal.

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