According to his official biographer, Steve Jobs went ballistic in January 2010 when he saw HTC’s newest Android phones. “I want you to stop using our ideas in Android,” Jobs reportedly told Eric Schmidt, then Google’s CEO. Schmidt had already been forced to resign from Apple’s board, partly due to increased smartphone competition between the two companies. Jobs then vowed to “spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank to right this wrong.”
Jobs called Android a “stolen product,” but theft can be a tricky concept when talking about innovation. The iPhone didn’t emerge fully formed from Jobs’s head. Rather, it represented the culmination of incremental innovation over decades—much of which occurred outside of Cupertino.
Innovation within multitouch and smartphone technology goes back decades—the first multitouch devices were created in the 1980s—and spans a large number of researchers and commercial firms. It wouldn’t have been possible to create the iPhone without copying the ideas of these other researchers. And since the release of Android, Apple has incorporated some Google ideas into iOS.
You can call this process plenty of names, some less than complimentary, but consumers generally benefit from the copying within the smartphone market. The best ideas are quickly incorporated into all the leading mobile platforms.
The current legal battles over smartphones are a sequel to the “look and feel” battle over the graphical user interface (GUI) in the late 1980s. Apple lost that first fight when the courts ruled key elements of the Macintosh user interface were not eligible for copyright protection. Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, the courts have made it much easier to acquire software patents. Apple now has more powerful legal weapons at its disposal this time around, as do its competitors. Together, there’s a real danger that the smartphone wars will end by stifling competition.
(continues @ ars technica)