HTC Getting Desperate?

HTC has countersued Apple over cellphone patents claiming Apple infringes on several patents, including some it managed to acquire from a known patent troll. But a quick look at the documents reveals just how lame the substance of this suit is.

There are five patents involved.

The first patent mentioned (as well as the last, 7716505, which is not yet up on Google) — the only patents HTC created itself — deals with power management in smart phones, specifically HTC claims to have invented some clever new way to manage the power of the “phone” part separately from the power of the “smart” part. My guess is that this is all bleeding obvious and Apple has prior art up the wazoo (as do lots of other companies). Simply from the patent itself they don’t seem to be doing anything more sophisticated or different from what any halfway decent laptop manufacturer does when deciding whether to dim a screen, spin down a hard disk, or put the system to sleep.

The other three patents (5541988, 6058183, and 6320957) all have to do with representing a user telephone directory in a convenient form and allowing people to dial by clicking on things. HTC even claims Apple is forcing third parties to infringe on the patent with its human interface guidelines. Not only is all this stuff bleeding obvious — we’re basically talking about someone trying to patent the idea of a database, but only if it consists of phone book entries — but the earliest of the three patents was issued in 1996, several years after Apple shipped several products with non-trivial telephony support (i.e. the Newton, which had a dynamic phone directory and a tone dialer built in; and the AV Macs, which could function as PABXs and fax machines via the GeoPort). How do you think Apple displayed user phone directories and let people dial numbers? Also bear in mind that PIMs (such as ACT! and Now Contact!) were one of the hot product categories in the early 90s, and the idea that this patent added anything none of these other (shipping) products thought of is pretty far-fetched.

It seems to me that the Patent Office ought to be able to fine people for wasting its time.

Good v. Evil

It’s not like Apple is a patent-troll shell company that needs these suits for income. It’s not like the government is going to shut down everyone’s Android phone already in the market. It’s purely an anti-competitive suit. Which, for consumers, just limits innovation.

Business Insider, Apple’s wimpy patent suit is proof that it’s terrified of Google

I have news for you, Business Insider. Patents are anti-competitive. That’s why they exist.

There are several questions raised by Apple’s lawsuit against HTC. Is it right or wrong? Can Apple win? Why is Apple doing it?

I have no clue about the last two questions, but like everyone else, I have strong opinions on the first.

John Gruber thinks it’s all about Steve Jobs being emotional:

“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.”

That’s not the language of a licensing dispute or the beginning of a polite negotiation. That’s the language of a man aggrieved.

I think he may be right, after all from an emotional standpoint it seems to me that Apple is, again, being ripped off by competitors. While what Apple’s imitators are doing seems wrong (and after all, the “emotions” we’re talking about come directly from our sense of “justice”) it seems to be perfectly legal, right? Well, surely if it seems wrong and it may in fact be illegal, doesn’t Apple have the right to try and find out?

Fortune (Steve Jobs: A Man Aggrieved) quotes Paul Graham as saying that Apple is in danger of becoming Evil:

“Apple is inching ever closer to evil,” writes Y Combinator’s Paul Graham, using the word in Google’s low-bar don’t-be-evil sense, “and I worry that there’s no one within the company who can stand up to Jobs and tell him so.”

Now, the funny thing here is that I don’t think Apple is anywhere near Evil in any Moral sense (and what other sense is there?), but it may be being Evil in using a broken patent system in an attempt to pursue its idea of natural justice. But how is that different from using the Tax Code to throw Al Capone in prison?

I’ll finish off with words from Wil Shipley (who himself has been victimized by Apple — note, I don’t think Paul Thurrott speaks for Delicious Monster):

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.

It’s a nice sentiment, but seems to be completely without factual basis. Did the brainiest people slowly leave Microsoft? If so, was it because Microsoft used its might to quash competition? It seems to me that Microsoft’s problem has never been a lack of brains, but a lack of taste. AT&T was, for many decades, a powerhouse of innovation, built and maintained by quashing rivals and enforcing patent laws. I seem to recall similar admonitions that Steve Jobs’s obsession with secrecy would damage Apple’s culture of creativity.