Apple Inc. doesn’t have a copyright on innovation but this point seems to be lost on Philip Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at the company. All the comments I’ve seen on Schiller’s presentation to a jury in its court case against rival Samsung Electronics Inc., tells me many observers – just like Apple itself – don’t get the true import of this legal tussle.
Apple didn’t really win. It has won the skirmish by getting a jury to agree it should be compensated handsomely – $930 million at the last count – but the company’s reputation has taken a beaten outside the courtroom and that humiliation continued in the courtroom as reflected in Schiller’s comments. The Apple executive might have been trying to swing the jury in his company’s favor – and seems to have succeeded – but he forgot about the other war going on outside with consumers. His words were effective in the courtroom but had a chilling effect as far as I am concerned outside.
That was my conclusion after reviewing comments Schiller made during the penalty phase of the company’s courtroom battle with competitor Samsung. Let me repeat some of his comments below. Please note that he was referring to the impact of Samsung’s [alleged?] violation of Apple’s copyright and copying of the company’s design. Here are a few phrases culled from news reports:
- It's much harder to create demand.
- People question our innovation and design skills like people never used to.
- [Samsung] weakened the world view of Apple as this great designer and innovator
- The industry tends to follow trends of products that are doing well
Translation: “Samsung copied us so well people began classifying our products as second rate, not innovative and less trendy.” These are extraordinary admissions from a senior executive at a company many analysts, suppliers, contract manufacturers, competitors and especially consumers only a few years ago thought had a lock on innovation.
Apple fell victim to an old malaise. It began believing and continues to believe it’s infallible; that its products are extraordinary and only needed incremental improvements. As a result, the company failed to appreciate the fact that its image as a trendy, innovative and outstanding design firm depended on its ability to keep consumers hooked on innovative products. Yesterday’s dazzle is today’s rag and for Apple watchers hoping and begging for another outstanding product Apple has instead repeatedly disappointed with offerings that turn out to be less impressive than products available at the copycats.
Apple’s Schiller needs to remember his employer didn’t invent the smartphone, the tablet PC or the digital music player. It made them better and more user friendly. Schiller should know, having been at the company since 1997 (see Schiller’s profile here).
My first smartphone wasn’t from Apple. Nokia introduced me to the smartphone – and it is credited with inventing the product, much as Motorola is credited with inventing the mobile phone. (The picture follows.)
I bought it well before anyone thought Apple could become the consumer electronics giant it is today. But the product was clunky and though I liked the functionalities they weren’t intuitive or as easy to use as the first smartphone. Apple made smartphones and tablets cool. Along the way, however, it forgot they weren’t its “innovation” and that it similarly copied the concept.
Samsung might have copied Apple’s initial smartphone and tablet concepts but this is an old trick in this industry. Everyone copies each other. This doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t fight to protect their copyrights but it’s equally important they understand where the real victories are won. Winners today are the companies that dramatically improve on copies and add something extra to the new products to wow consumers.
That Apple doesn’t have a copyright on innovation is a message the company needs to hear from everyone in the industry, including its fan base. William Price, Samsung’s attorney pointed this out to Schiller during his cross-examination of the Apple executive, saying: “Apple doesn’t own a patent on a product being beautiful or sexy, isn’t that correct?” It shouldn’t have been a question.
The earlier Apple remembers this, the quicker it will get Schiller and other executives out of the courtroom and into the public sphere where they can dream up the next must-have product people like myself believe they are capable of making. (See: Apple’s Next Big Thing will be Huge.)
DISCLAIMER: Bolaji Ojo is editor-in-chief and publisher of Electronics Purchasing Strategies. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone who promises to base his sometimes biased, possibly ignorant, occasionally irrelevant but absolutely stimulating thoughts on the subjective interpretation of verifiable facts alone. Any comments should be sent to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.