I've never made it a secret that I'm a big fan of Apple products. I love my Mac Book Pro and my iPhone, but I have to say that Apple has been pissing me off lately. The company has decided to throw its legal weight around to protect its market share instead of letting the products speak for themselves. Two cases in particular stand out: the multi-touch patent and attempting to criminalize jail-breaking iphones.
At the end of January, it surfaced that Apple had scored a patent for multi-touch technology and that it could, if it wished sue anyone else who used it. This legal maneuver seemed aimed squarely at Palm and the new Palm Pre (which I wrote about recently in Is the Palm Pre a Pre-tender or the Next Big Thing?). In this PC World article quoting acting Apple Grand Poohbah Tim Cook, it sounds like they may actually try to use the patent as a big stick:
Apple's acting chief and COO Tim Cook recently said, "we will not stand for having our IP [intellectual property] ripped off, and we'll use whatever weapons that we have at our disposal [to protect it]."
Now, not everyone agrees that Apple has a legal leg to stand on with this patent, but it's clear they filed it to put a legal obstacle in the way of companies trying to challenge their market share. And let's face it, Apple has plenty of cash in pocket to beat down most legal battles. Even if they ultimately lose, they made life difficult for their competitors.
The Jail Breaking Brouhaha
Just this week, our friends at Apple decided to use the Digital Media Copyright Act to make it illegal for people to "jail break" their iPhones. When people "jail break" an iPhone, they do so in order to load applications that didn't make it into the iTunes App Store. It appears with this move that Apple wants to make criminals out of customers who have the audacity to use applications it doesn't approve of on phones I might point out, people paid good money to own. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has taken up the fight and it should be interesting to see if they can slap Apple back down.
What is Apple Afraid of?
These moves suggest to me that Apples fears competition, and I'm wondering why. If you put their products on an even playing field and let the buyer decide, in my opinion, Apple is going to win hands-down. I don't recall too many other cell phones in recent memory where people stood in line for a week to get one. Lots of companies have made an MP3 player including Microsoft, but not one has come even close to the success of the iPod.
Clearly, trying to portray your competitors and your own customers as intellectual property thieves is not going to make friends and influence people. It's time for Apple to call off the lawyers and let the products do the talking. It's a strategy that hasn't failed them yet.