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My Opinion

Apple vs. Samsung: Welcome to Monopoly

I’ve been watching the Apple vs. Samsung trial with a constant frown on my face, but decided not to say much until the jury came back with a verdict. I guess I was hoping the 9 people in the jury box would see reason and do something extraordinary. I was wrong. Apple won the case, Samsung got a slap in the face with as piked iron glove, and everyone except the lawyers will be worse off for it.

The Prime Objective

Let’s get one thing straight here: As I see it this trial was never about patent infringement. It was about competition. Apple is suing Samsung and has already or is going to sue every other manufacturer of Android handsets for some form of patent infringement in every country where these handsets are being sold because Apple sees any handset powered by the little green robot as a genuine threat to its self-defined rightful and uncontested seat on the throne of the Smart Phone Kingdom. In many countries these court cases have already been slapped down for being what they are – badly disguised attempts at monopolizing a market – but in this landmark case in the US, they walked away with a decisive victory, one that will define the future of the smart phone market and stands a good chance of ruining everything for everyone, Apple included. This was never about intellectual property rights; It was about Lust, Greed, Envy and Pride.

Innovation thrives on competition

Apple set out to quash the competition, and they did so with force. No matter how you slice it Samsung is eating away at Apple’s dominance in the market in a very big way and will likely continue to do so. In many countries Samsung handsets already outsell iPhones, and the numbers are getting closer in North America as well. Except now Apple has a carte blanche to try to knock down every new handset Samsung rolls out because it looks like a smart phone. And while religious Apple fanatics see this as a victory and are likely already skipping to the comments section to write a vitriolic retort, this is in reality a huge blow to everyone including Apple fans because this verdict puts a severe damper on innovation.

The smart phone market is thriving and evolving at a break neck pace. If you want to stay on the forefront you pretty much have to trade in your handset every 6 – 8 months now, and every new step in the smart phone evolution is enormous. The phone I have today makes the phone I had two years ago seem like a toaster. And that’s good. But if the competition lessens there is little reason for Apple or anyone else to keep the evolution moving at this break neck speed. Research, design, and manufacturing is expensive, and slowing things down when there is no threat of losing market share makes financial sense.

Now I know what you’re going to say crazy Apple Dogmatics: “Apple will continue to innovate, competition or not, because Apple is the pinnacle of technology and the reason why we are no longer in the iron age.” You are so wrong my friend. So. Wrong. The reason why Apple has done so well is because they used to do so badly. And the reason they did so badly was because they were not trying to beat the competition. For a while they rested on their laurels, and as a result the competition buried them. And that will happen again, except this time, because of all these idiotic lawsuits, there will be no one there to bury them, and we will be left with old and crappy hardware and little innovation. It may not happen right now, but we’re only one backwards thinking CEO away from dystopia.

Seven Deadly Sins

If I were a religious man I’d say Apple is making a valiant effort at perpetrating as many of the Seven Deadly Sins as possible. The trial started because of their Lust, Greed, and Envy: They lusted for complete dominance of the market, their greed drove them to want to take all the profits not sharing the space with anyone, and the lusted envied anyone who got in their way with something new and interesting. Like petulant children they looked out at the world and noticed not everyone was eating from their orchard. And rather seeing this as a challenge and reason to excel, they set out to burn down the robot factories.

Now that they won they have moved on to another sin, the original, and most deadly of them all: Pride. In true Apple fashion the win was immediately touted as proof that Apple are the only true innovators in the space and that they have every right to beat down the completion on legal grounds rather than in the marketplace. Which is amusing because when Microsoft pulled the same stunt back in the 1980s and 90s, Apple painted the rival as the new Big Brother.

Imagine that. Apple is now Old Microsoft. Congratulations.

Welcome to Monopoly

Monopoly is a fun game but a horrible reality. Apple wants a monopoly on everything, and for some bizarre reason I can’t wrap my head around Apple fans, especially North American fans, want this to happen. Never mind monopolies are pretty much the antithesis of free market capitalism and the American Dream: Monopolies are one of the things that defined communist dictatorships! And that is the path we are now headed down.

Postface

Just to clear a few things: (a) The decision of the jury was in fact the correct one in accordance with US patent laws. The problem here is that those laws make no sense. (b) I do see Apple as a driving innovator in the field. However, despite what they say Apple did not invent everything in the field – in fact most of what they claim to have invented is derivative work they patented. There is a huge difference. There were touch screen phones before the iPhone and tablets before the iPad. (c) I don’t have a problem with Apple products. I have a problem with their monopolistic anti-competition policies. To my eyes Apple is making every effort to be the only company to supply smart phones, tablets, and other devices. That is not good for anyone but Apple share holders. (d) I am not a legal expert, I am a technologist and logician. The opinions expressed here are based on my understanding of the marketplace and a logical breakdown of the arguments presented by both sides of the debate.

Further Reading

For a an alternate, but not all that different, view check out Apple Winning the Patent Wars Is Great for Innovation over at Gizmodo. While I take the glass-pretty-much-empty approach to this, Jesus Diaz sees the verdict as a demarcation line from which Apple’s competitors will go new ways and create new innovative solutions for the smart phone market. Jesus as I are pretty much in agreement, we just differ on the final outcome.