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
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.