On July 27, a Taiwanese university filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Apple for an undisclosed amount. The lawsuit marks the latest in a string of patent infringements against the wildly successful Cupertino-based giant. National Cheng Kung University brought the charges on the grounds that Apple violated two voice-to-text patents it held in the U.S that Apple allegedly used in Siri, the voice command/recognition technology released in the iPhone 4S.
Lawsuits have long been a part of business culture and technology firms are some of the most litigated because of their wide margin for profit. We must question the ethicality of these lawsuits; while some plaintiffs have legitimate cause for unrest in intellectual property rights, others are simply trying to get a lucrative settlement and hinder the progress of their competitors in the process.
The NCKU lawsuit is hardly the first legal battle that Apple has faced and it isn’t likely to be the last. Since its inception, Apple has spent millions in litigation. From the iTunes/iPod antitrust suit to the Nokia and Samsung patent battles, here are a few of the more notable cases and what they reveal about one of the most secretive and successful firms of the day.
Antitrust suits have been filed against Apple on a number of occasions. iTunes and the iPod were subject to this accusation as well as Apple in partnership with AT&T. In 2005, Apple was accused of creating a monopoly on the digital music industry when it changed the iPod format to only be compatible with iTunes. The class action suit was closed three years later when Apple dropped its prices on some songs and then CEO Steve Jobs was deposed.
When Apple teamed up with AT&T for the release of the iPhone in 2007, antitrust litigation was once again brought against Apple. The two firms worked together to draw up contracts which locked customers into lengthy and binding commitments. The iPhone was highly sought after but only available through AT&T until the fourth generation when Apple, tired of litigation and legal fees, contracted Verizon to sell the iPhone with Sprint and others to follow.
In today’s competitive and ruthless business culture, it stands to be asked: Did Apple deserve the antitrust suits, or was the company simply attacked in order to counter its success and innovation? Envious of their quarterly sales numbers and soaring stock price, competitors were clearly unhappy with Apple’s success, but the fact is, Apple did disable compatibility between RealNetwork and the iPod, forcing iPod users to use iTunes. However, both iTunes and the iPod are products of Apple, so why should Apple need to make them compatible with other products? Similarly, Apple’s relationship with AT&T was exclusive and seemingly unfair to the competitors, but that was only the case because Apple was a success that began to dominate a significant portion of the mobile market share.
However, Apple has not always been the defendant. Apple v. Samsung has recently gone to trial after months of court proceedings. All tolled, Apple is seeking in the realm of $2.5 billion from Samsung for copyright infringement in reference to the Samsung Galaxy S, Galaxy S 2, and Galaxy Tab 10.1. According to an article in the Verge, Apple claims that Samsung’s designs were copies of the iPhone and iPad. Samsung is also accused of focusing on imitating Apple rather than competing in the market. While this case just went to court, you can decide for yourself.
While Apple has been on both ends of the litigating table, the most recent lawsuit with NCKU represents the obstacles and controversies that an influential tech firm faces in developing new products. Apple will always have fans and critics; and despite its progress and the genius of Steve Jobs, it will not always be in the right. The court will now have to decide whether NCKU has a legitimate case and that Apple is in the wrong or if NCKU is just another entity trying to take a bite out of Apple’s billions.
Apple is known for some of the most innovative products of the past two decades. Lawsuits against firms as powerful as Apple are good in the sense that they keep them from forming monopolies and exploiting the market. However, their constant presence in court and increasing regulations do not promote progress in the industry. If growth is to be sustained at the level that it has over the past twenty odd years, regulations will need to be loosened and firms that fall behind will need to learn to compete instead of filing suit against those at the top.