Jacques Mattheij

technology, coding and business

Tim Cook Memo Line by Line

Apple just won in their case against Samsung and Tim Cook has posted a memo to Apple employees. I’m not one of those but I feel pretty upset about the stupidity of this lawsuit, the verdict and patents in general. Here is the text of the memo with my comments:

Today was an important day for Apple and for innovators everywhere.

Yes, it was a very important day. Innovators - real innovators - were given a chance to show that there is a huge difference between minor features, interface elements and true innovation, as well as between obvious solutions to simple problems and non-obvious ones. I strongly feel these patents were just used as a proxy for look-and-feel, a concept that Apple tried litigating Microsoft over in the past (and which they lost, see Apple vs Microsoft)

Many of you have been closely following the trial against Samsung in San Jose 
for the past few weeks. We chose legal action very reluctantly 

This is quite disingenious, Apple asked Samsung to pay an unprecedented $30 per phone for their utterly silly patents. When Samsung refused to pay this fee (which would be a disproportionate chunk of their profits per phone) Apple sued. Reluctance did not enter into it.

and only after repeatedly asking Samsung to stop copying our work. 

Here Tim Cook may have a point, apparently Samsung copied some graphical details from Apple, which I find pretty low on Samsung’s part. But that’s a copyright violation, it has nothing to do with patents which are supposedly about how things are implemented, not on the user interface they expose. The fact that you can file such a patent should not mean that it should be granted. After all, the whole point is that if something is obvious it should not be patentable. That there are multiple obvious solutions for something and that there is one that is obviously best does not mean that whoever thought of that best solution first should get a monopoly on it. I can see you getting a patent on a better design for a brake, but not on the brake pedal. Imagine a brake pedal that would have to work side-to-side in order to get around someone else’s patent, that would be madness.

For us this lawsuit has always been about something much more important than patents or money. 

That’s an easy one, this is of course all about money, control and market dominance, as well as fighting Android with every tool available. Some time ago it was a Microsoft computer on every desk, now it is an apple phone or tablet in every pocket and on every table. This is all about keeping critical mass because these walled off eco-systems do not thrive in the light of any meaningful competition. That way you’d have to go for open standards, and interoperability. It means real competition, for instance on price instead of user lock-in.

It’s about values. 

Oh, please. Really, does a CEO at that level really have to resort to outright lies in a memo to their personel? Even the most rabid Apple fan can see through this and realize this is just about money. If it wouldn’t be about money and control then there wouldn’t be so many efforts to get injunctions and damages.

We value originality and innovation and pour our lives into making the best products on earth. 

And you’re doing that by virtue of the millions upon millions of man-hours that went into the real innovations, the ones by people that did not bother to patent their ideas but that simply thought that these things are too obvious to even begin to think of patenting them. Patents are being abused by companies the world over to keep the competition at bay, not to foster innovation. A patent on a grid of rounded icons? How else would you arrange them? A bit sloppy maybe, make the corners protrude? What about that pinch to zoom thing? Any suggestions on how else any half decent developer would implement that? These are not patents on innovation, they’re patents on simple ideas and features that you didn’t even think of first but you were the first to patent.

And we do this to delight our customers, not for competitors to flagrantly copy.

Well, you’re not delighting this ex-customer, that’s for sure. You’re disgusting me with the double speak and the fact that if this is sincere that you actually believe nonsense like this would not be seen for what it is. About 6 weeks ago we were in the market for a new computer to replace our aging iMac. Instead of buying another iMac (do your customers really like those high gloss screens by the way, does it ‘delight’ them?) we decided to go for a Samsung TV coupled to a small pc. Maybe not as elegant as an Imac but I could no longer in conscience support Apple with my money. That’s a decision we took a while ago when this patent madness started. I’m sure it didn’t register on the Apple balance sheet but it is all that I, just one lonely developer, can do to protest your actions. You’ve been abusing the patent system and you are losing the support of those that have liked Apple ever since the Apple I came out. THAT was innovation. This is just slick repackaging and it should not be patentable in this world.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the jury who invested their time in listening to our story. 
We were thrilled to finally have the opportunity to tell it. The mountain of evidence 
presented during the trial showed that Samsung’s copying went far deeper than we knew.

For sure Samsung has some egg on its face, but it definitely does not warrant the kind of legal assault and the kind of compensation that Apple was seeking for their silly patents, patents that imho should have never been granted in the first place. Starting with the ‘one click to buy’ patent (and probably lots before then) my trust in the patent system, software patents in particular, and now ‘design patents’ has been eroded to the point where I think the world would be better of without a patent system. Just make it a free for all and let the ones that can manufacture the goodies the cheapest win. I’ve been party to several clear inventions and I’ve never felt the need to lock others out of doing the same things that I was doing. This has led to some funny exchanges with patent trolls (bottom feeders that will buy up patents to extort money from companies using some technology) when they realized that if they sued me there would probably be an on the record claim of prior art. In particular, the streaming-video-to-the-browser idea, which seemed obvious to me would have likely been eligible for patent protection at the time I came up with it. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t 50 other guys thinking the exact same thing, I was just a bit faster. Patents should not reward those that think of something obvious first. So, copying bitmaps -> bad Samsung. Copying obvious user interface elements such as pinch, zoom, double tap, bounce, gridded icons and so on -> absolutely permissible. Imagine every car having a different user interface. Steering wheel, handlebars, steering with your feet, accelerator pedal, a lever on the dash, seating arrangements all topsy turvy just to avoid infringing on the patents. Sure, when cars first came out there must have been tons of patents trying to do just that. But clearly the general public and society at large is not served by a monopoly on the steering wheel for one company and a $5000 surcharge on every other car that needs to license this amazing new tech.

The jury has now spoken. We applaud them for finding Samsung’s behavior willful and for 
sending a loud and clear message that stealing isn’t right.

Tim sounds a bit like the RIAA chairman here.

We’ll see how this all ends after the appeal. One thing is for sure, as long as these idiotic patents are not revoked there will be more of these lawsuits, after all, if you can’t compete on price then you can always abuse the patent system and then enforce them using the courts. Who cares about obviousness or reasonable license fees?

I am very proud of the work that each of you do.

I’m sure you do and that it makes you tons of money is just a side show for you. But as proud as you are, as disgusted I am. The days of Steve Wozniak are long gone, Apple has simply taken over Microsofts position as Bully #1 in the tech field. Today, values have won and I hope the whole world listens. Your values have won, mine have lost, so have consumers and it will take a long time for this to be corrected.

Tim

Goodbye Apple. I hope someday you’ll look back at this and there will be an apology for how you abused the patent system. Steve Wozniak, if you want to make a statement, sell your Apple stock. It will make you a boatload of money and it will show that there is at least one person at Apple that does not agree with these dumb tactics.

Full disclosure, my phone is a Nokia ‘dumb’ phone, it serves me well, and I have no tablet.