Apple Goes Thermonuclear on Google –But Who Wins?

What does this Apple victory against Samsung mean? Apple took a big swipe at Google-the same Google which has won its battle for dominant market share by being open and free. Google is now the number one operating system for smartphones and Apple is fighting back, not by innovating with even better smartphones, but by going to court.

Don’t get blinded by the names on the lawsuit. The $1 billion patent war victory against Samsung by Apple was really a shot fired at Google Android. Once old friends, Apple and Google, are now arch enemies and the days of their alliance are long over. At one time, Apple was convinced that their technologies were complementary rather than competitive, and Eric Schmidt from Google was allowed to serve on Apple’s board from 2006 to 2009-while Apple developed its iPhone. But when Google moved into Apple territory with the Android acquisition in 2005, Steve Jobs came to view Google as the real enemy. As he told his biographer, he would launch a thermonuclear war over Google Android OS.

It’s a lot easier to steal an idea than it is to come up with it, but innovation is often a series of small incremental changes added on to existing work. To ward off the patent monster, big players are acquiring other firms just for the IP rights. Last year, two old arch enemies Apple and Microsoft banded together with RIM, Sony and others (“My enemy’s enemy is my friend.”) to buy Nortel’s patent portfolio for $4.5 billion, right from out under Google’s opening offer of $900 million. Stymied Google responded by quickly snatching up Motorola Mobility, which also had a strong patent portfolio. This new verdict begs the question of the value of Google’s Motorola Mobility IP vs. that of Nortel.

For the past few years Apple has been innovating while other firms wait and then copy its ideas-and improve upon them.  The jury award against Samsung for $1.05 billion dollars did what it was supposed to do-return the spoils to the innovators, but Apple’s real enemy was watching from the sidelines.   And this patent verdict could open the door for another old enemy, now seemingly harmless, to slyly make its own move back into the thick of the mobile competition.

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