Some thoughts on Apple's patent infringement suit against HTC
“We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”
The decision by Apple to sue HTC today for patent infringement seems to answer (unfavorably) the question of whether Apple's patent portfolio strategy around iPhone was birthed more to be a defensive move (i.e., to block others from suing them) or an offensive one (i.e., to block competitors from emulating them).
As the aggressor, Apple opens itself up to getting tarred by the "Apple's Evil" crowd, who can use this as evidence that the company is trying to slow down the rate of innovation by iPhone competitors.
No less, this makes the company look fearful of an open, competitive market and less confident in the defensibility/differentiation of their platform, since we all know the moniker, if you can't beat 'em, sue 'em.
While it's an imperfect analog, people will likely look to this suit as akin to the "look and feel" lawsuit that Apple pursued and ultimately lost against Microsoft, signaling once and for all the descent of Macs and the dominance of Windows.
Granted, that was a copyright suit, and not a patent litigation, but perception has a way of becoming reality, and the perception is that the company (Apple) that has consistently kicked butt on the merits of products (and products alone), has just pulled out the chemical warfare to change the shape of the battlefield.
Why they felt the need to pull out the weapons of mass destruction NOW is the question that Apple lovers and haters alike should be wondering.
UPDATE 1: And so it begins. The blogosphere, and mainstream media are already talking this one up as the beginnings of a major war with Google, and proof positive of Apple's fear of Google (see 'Apple's Wimpy Patent Suit Is Proof That It's Terrified Of Google'). As I noted yesterday, fair or unfair, this is one of those "perception has a way of becoming reality" type of deals. When you are kicking butt and taking no prisoners, the last thing you want to do is validate the competition by acknowledging their existence as a viable threat. It's the same reason we all poke fun at iPhone competitors when they market, position and message themselves relative to iPhone. It's seen as the ultimate proof that they don't have their own identity. Alas, Apple is validating the impact of Android by suing it's nearest proxy (HTC).
UPDATE 2: John Gruber of Daring Fireball has put together a nice compilation of some educated perspectives on both the (woeful) state of software patent law, and how same shapes an intellectually honest read on Apple's suit against HTC. Here is an excerpt (from Tim Bray): "I’m inclined to think there’s a spectrum of reasonability in software patents. 'One-click ordering' seems like a grievous error, simply because if you said those three words to any web-savvy ecommerce-savvy programmer, they’d say 'OK' and build it for you and it would work; which doesn’t seem to meet a high enough bar to qualify as an invention. But consider the basic PGP setup by Phil Zimmerman, it’s just immensely clever and elegant. I have the feeling that that really does qualify as an invention in totally the same sense as my brother’s gas-mixing apparatus. Obviously I think the things I filed are closer to PGP than one-click ordering."