Great Artists Steal

So Apple won an important battle with Samsung (in a US court where a juror said it was clear to the jury after the first day of the trial that Samsung stole ideas from Apple, which made the rest of the one year long trial moot). Apple accused Samsung of stealing. And it’s probably not just about the device itself, this war is also on Android. A couple of years ago Steve Jobs declared war on Android.

I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.

I don’t want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won’t want it. I’ve got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that’s all I want.

But wait a minute, back in 1996 Steve Jobs declared in a TV mini-series called Triumph of the Nerds (that you can watch on youtube) that (in the word of Picasso) “Good artists copy, great artists steal” and, hold your breath…

We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.

So, according to Apple’s founder and former boss, stealing is something good after all, and Samsung should consider themselves great artists?

As that wasn’t enough, it appears (as The Verge reported) that Apple made a list of alternative design options for Samsung, that wouldn’t infringe patents on iPhone and iPad. Here is the summary of the list:

  • for phones:
    • Front surface that isn’t black.
    • Overall shape that isn’t rectangular, or doesn’t have rounded corners.
    • Display screens that aren’t centered on the front face and have substantial lateral borders.
    • Non-horizontal speaker slots.
    • Front surfaces with substantial adornment.
    • No front bezel at all.
  • for tablets:
    • Overall shape that isn’t rectangular, or doesn’t have rounded corners.
    • Thick frames rather than a thin rim around the front surface.
    • Front surface that isn’t entirely flat.
    • Profiles that aren’t thin.
    • Cluttered appearance.

And that leaves the competitors, all of them, not just Samsung, with nothing. Overall shape that isn’t rectangular? What would they want? Triangle or circle tables? Really? Profiles that aren’t thin? Maybe brick phones like in the ’90s, then? Thomas Baekdal gave a great answer to Apple’s proposal list: Apple Never Designed the iPad – They Undesigned it. He argues that all those things that Apple claim as innovations (the margins, the thickness, the color, the flat back, etc.) are actually practical decisions in making a simple form with the best usability.

Every single decision is based on usability, readability, comfort, and focusing your eyes on the content itself.

Seeing Apple’s list, all I can say is that it’s great that Apple only pioneered computers, phones and tables. It would be funny, yet scary, to imagine how other things would look if Apple invented them. We are lucky Apple didn’t invent the car, because if they did, all the other cars could not:

  • have an even number of wheels, and definitely not four
  • drive forwards and backwards, only sidewards
  • have the driving wheel in front of the driver
  • have a curved sheet windshield
  • come in a single, uniform color

We are also lucky that Apple didn’t invent the radio, because if they did, all the other radios could not:

  • have radio buttons that are round
  • work on AM or FM
  • have antennas smaller than 30 cm
  • feature front side speaker slots

And finally, let’s be thankful that Apple didn’t invent the coffee machine, because if they did, all the other coffee machines in the world could not:

  • boil the water, they would have to be manually fed with pre-boiled water
  • work with more than one type of coffee
  • be painted in silver or black

With all big tech companies suing each other over patent infringements, the future looks grim. Is this good, or is it bad for innovation? I guess there could be arguments for both. But it surely looks like the motion picture patent wars at the beginning of the 20th century, with another big figure at the center. Thomas Edison (another great businessman that stole a lot of great ideas) wanted about 100 years ago to monopolize the motion picture field. Luckily, he eventually failed, with the competitors ignoring the patents and using illegal equipment, and finally wining in court because Edison’s company acted “far beyond what was necessary to protect the use of patents or the monopoly which went with them”. Will something similar happen with the patents war going on in the IT business nowadays? I certainly hope so.

UPDATE: just ran into this youtube video called “Patenterprise” that shows how Apple kills Star Trek.

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