By Greg Mills
I carefully read the reports of the Steve Jobs interview at the "All Things D" event and was struck by the blunt truthfulness of the man. Certainly, he had to be very careful about every word he spoke. But it was obvious that his feelings are real about his passion, great products and betrayal.
The historical dispute arising when Microsoft appropriated the Mac's "look and feel" for Windows 1.0, now over 20 years ago, seem to be repeating itself with Google. Apple is sort of in a Catch 22 situation where it must trust other companies that it needs for core support, only to see the guts of its greatest hits stolen or at least emulated closely enough to hurt Apple and divide the market. The Google Android phone OS is likely to be the strongest competition to the iPhone OS. Palm bit the dust, Windows Mobile is a joke and RIM is only holding its own.
Jobs commented that Apple isn't doing search even though is Google doing smart phones and competing with Apple. You have imagine, having the chairman of Google on the Apple board must have masked the potential conflict of interest issue, for way too long.
Reading Steve Jobs' take on this -- in this situation, "between the lines" -- is like noticing your best friend in first grade is looking over your shoulder to cheat on a spelling test. You studied hard to get every word right, and it is unfair to have the grading curve distorted due to cheating. The visceral bad feeling of betrayal is part of the human experience we all can relate to.
As an inventor, 20 years down the pike, I can say that every company I have ever done business with on my intellectual property has either not done as promised or cheated me outright despite 20-page contracts and patent law. Creative people are doomed to have ideas stolen by people with access to the technology and more avarice than a moral center.
Recently, I sued a former employer for stealing an idea that was disclosed under a non-disclosure and consulting agreement. After two years of litigation and discovery, the end result was that due to poor implementation of my idea the product sales were only enough to warrant a settlement equal to what my attorney cost me. The company paid more for attorney fees on both side to fight me than the royalty they would have paid me, had they had done the right thing. Within a year they went bankrupt. My great product idea is now a market flop, beyond my control. The least they could have done was get it right.
A second company stole a new product idea, despite a non-disclosure agreement they signed, before I showed them my patent pending product. The product prototype test was
flawless and they loved it. They began negotiations with me through their attorney. The negotiations dragged on for weeks, and I finally told them to sign the papers or forget it.
They forgot it at that point, but "remembered" it in detail eight years later and launched the exact device with very minor changes -- and got away with it. My attorney gave me a 50/50
chance of winning in Federal Court and a 90% chance of an expensive fight. Do you throw good money after bad? A case an attorney won't touch for a contingency is not worth taking
to court if you are not already rich.
I concluded life is too short to spend on attorneys and court battles. As much as is possible Apple does that, too. By far the majority of law suits Apple is in are launched by those who want a slice of the Apple and have any lame patent claim to stand on. Apple must hire a zillion lawyers to defend themselves and file patents on everything possible. You never
know when an obscure patent claim will help you prevail in court.
Steve seems to think Apple lost the platform war with Microsoft, but that they are winning the competition for great software. I think Apple has won and doesn't know it, but will never really shaft Microsoft with the killing blow until they directly compete by selling the Mac OS to the PC world. If Apple did that, Microsoft would go into a tail spin, crash and burn. Give the PC world a choice, Steve. Apple has built a better OS. Your hardware business is strong enough to survive on its own merits.
(Greg Mills is currently a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Married, with one daughter still at home, Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's web sites at http://www.gregmills.info . He can be emailed at gregmills.mac.)