Apple’s Move, Patently Bad Idea

News of Apple suing HTC for patent infringement do take away from the nice general feeling of their products. In an open letter to Steve Jobs, Wil Shipley writes:

If Apple becomes a company that uses its might to quash competition instead of using its brains, it’s going to find the brainiest people will slowly stop working there. You know this, you watched it happen at Microsoft. Enforcing patents isn’t a good long-term play: it’s the beginning of the end of the creative Apple we both love.

And you don’t have to wait to see that effect taking place. In a post about the patent lawsuit by Apple, Robert O’Callahan says:

I’m very glad I don’t work for Apple.

Previously in that same post O’Callahan discusses one of the patent claims that covers a method for moving an object in a graphical user interface:

It was filed in 2001 and issued in 2008. (The other claims are mostly restatements of the same idea.) So when Jobs says
“We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”
not only does he believe that in 2000 Apple was the first company to invent the idea of time-based animation of objects with non-constant velocity, but he also believes that they deserve a monopoly on use of that idea until 2021, and that anyone else using the idea until then is stealing from Apple. All three beliefs are ludicrous and shameful.

I can understand that those at Apple are less likely to realize how this tarnishes their image. Unfortunately, it might also be hard to measure and prove how, in my opinion, this is a bad decision on their part no matter what the outcome. Gruber pointed out a couple ways you could try to spin this:

I can think of only a few optimistic angles for this suit. One is that perhaps it’s a by-product of the suit Apple is engaged in against (and initiated by) Nokia. Apple’s counter-suit against Nokia involves some of the same patents at play here, and perhaps Apple’s lawyers have concluded that they need to enforce them against someone like HTC in order to use them in their counter-suit against Nokia. Or, perhaps one or more of the truly technical patents Apple has cited against HTC are genuine instances of intellectual property theft, the specific nature of which is unclear from the opaque language of the patent filings, and the rest of the cited patent violations were tacked on as part of a legal strategy along the lines of “If you’re going to punch them, punch them as hard as you can”. I.e. that they’ve filed suit as widely as they can, but have specific narrow violations in mind.

But the harm is done. Gruber finishes with:

What worries me is that idea that Apple, or even just Steve Jobs, believes that phones like the Nexus One have no right to exist, period, and that patent litigation to keep them off the market is in the company’s interests. I say it’s worrisome not because I think it’s evil, or foolish, or unreasonable, but because it is unwise, shortsighted, and unnecessary.

Unwise, shortsighted, and unnecessary… patently obvious I would like to think.