Lawsuits Have Little to Do with Who the Real Innovators Are

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-11-02 Print this article Print


Steve Jobs clearly had a role in inventing a lot of interesting items, but he also had a role in borrowing ideas from others without necessarily asking for them first. I've already mentioned the multitouch screen, but Apple's most basic innovation, the Macintosh GUI (graphical user interface), actually didn't come from Apple. The company borrowed that from the Xerox Star computer, which really was ahead of its time with a GUI, a mouse and all of those other neat things we take for granted now. 

And Steve Ballmer didn't invent anything as far as I know, and he doesn't claim to have. But he certainly found innovative ways to sell his company's products, and he enabled a lot of other inventions in a wide variety of technology areas. So now Microsoft is suing Motorola over infringements in Android, which is actually produced by Google. 

You'll notice that none of these lawsuits seems to have any relationship to who actually invented anything. Apple is suing Motorola because it's afraid of the success of the Droid, which Motorola makes for Verizon Wireless. Motorola is suing Apple to make it either back off or settle.

Apple isn't suing Google, probably because it's afraid of what Google might do in its search engine. For example, you might type in "Apple" and be presented with a photo of a type of globular fruit commonly grown on trees worldwide, but which probably originated in China. You'd have to go to the second page to find out about iPhones or computers. 

Now, it may appear that I don't take these legal machinations seriously. This is, of course, incorrect. They are serious, if only because they keep thousands of lawyers busy creating briefs that no one will ever read and preparing cases that no court will ever hear.

Heaven only knows that unemployment is bad enough in Silicon Valley without a bunch of unemployed lawyers wandering the streets and getting in trouble. Besides, Apple has $50 billion in cash that it has no idea what to do with. Since paying actual dividends to its stockholders is out of the question, why not spend it on lawyers? 

So yes, these lawsuits are serious. They are also a time-honored, deeply traditional activity in the technology business that otherwise has few traditions. So by all means, encourage these folks to keep on suing each other. It helps the economy. Oh, and it gives columnists something to write about on otherwise boring Mondays.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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