Apple and the Spectre of Decline

by jscariati

Tim Wu in The New Republic:

There are, meanwhile, long-term dangers in Apple’s grand patent campaign, both for the company itself and the industry at large. Since the 1970s, winning and losing in tech has been generally, if not always, a matter of merit. Each of Apple’s great victories, from the Macintosh to the iPhone, came by building great products.

Apple’s resort to patent law is a completely different way of doing business. It’s an appeal to the federal government for protection against competition. It can be effective, but relying on public help is an addictive habit, and unhealthy over the long term.

Apple didn’t sue Samsung to prevent competition – they sued Samsung to prevent them from creating products so strikingly similar to Apple’s own that consumers couldn’t tell the difference. If their intent was to prevent competition itself, they would have sued every smartphone manufacturer under the sun, not just Samsung specifically.

While supposedly affecting how its competitors make products, Apple’s patents may do more to change its own products. That’s because they create an incentive to build things that are safely protected behind its proven “patent shield.” As Edgar puts it, with patent protection in place, “the innovation required to make a new product seem desirable will increase exponentially.” This may be one of the reasons the iPhone 5 looks and works so much like its predecessors.

No, the iPhone 5 looks and works like previous iPhones because it’s a good design that has been proven to work well and sell well. Apple doesn’t change product designs willy-nilly just because; they change them to make them better.

Not to mention, the iPhone 5 was designed long before this “patent protection” was actually in place, so the timeline here doesn’t even make sense.

This isn’t to say that Apple has accomplished nothing. Instead, the experts suggest it has built itself a shield against knock-offs–literal copies of the style of its phones and iPad that might make you mistake for the authentic items. Call it “Louis Vuitton” protection–good against counterfeiters, but not control of the whole handbag market.

Exactly. And that’s what Samsung was doing – producing products that were so similar to Apple’s that they could be mistaken for each other. Which directly contradicts the argument earlier in the article that they sued to prevent “competition.”

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