Apple’s billion-dollar award from Samsung completely changes the environment for mobile computing. It may cause the elimination of many useful products, or make others prohibitively expensive. And it’s another brick in the wall as Apple slowly takes over the world. As Apple becomes more aggressive in protecting its patent rights, so, too, may other manufacturers, like Google and HP. Together, they will squash innovation. Or so conventional thinking goes, at least.
That said, Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo got me thinking. He argues that Apple’s Patent Wars are going to be good for innovation:
So hope that Apple wins all the appeals. Hope that Apple wins every single lawsuit in which their patents are valid. Because the fact is that Apple’s court triumph will drive innovation, not stifle it. Steve Jobs’ ultimate afterlife victory will drive prices down, not up. It will give us, the consumer, more options not less.
What’s Diaz thinking? He believes that Apple’s lawsuits will stifle the copycats (like Samsung) and encourage competitors to create more revolutionary products and ideas, one of which is Windows 8:
Microsoft showed the world that there was a different way to do things. Like I said one year ago, Windows 8 “introduces diversity, new methods, evolution. That, as someone who loves brilliant technology, excites me. You should be excited too.
This makes sense. Apple will sue the easy targets – makers of lame and cheap copycat products. But we will benefit from the more revolutionary products to come.
I think that the existing Patent Wars are just a stage for a much larger conflict, much the way the Vietnam War was a stage for a much larger war of ideas, the Cold War. Apple somehow made itself the stand-in for the old, closed, proprietary way of doing things. Its software only runs on its hardware, and its hardware only runs its software. It represents and collects a huge share of the royalties of every major media company. Furthermore, its software remains closed, so that the only way that it can innovate is by either creating ideas in-house or buying them from other companies. As innovative as its products may be, Apple is completely tethered to a proprietary ideal.
In the other corner we find a much more innovative bunch. Open-source products and the crowd sourcing ideology have begun to bear fruit, in such products as FireFox, Wikipedia and Android. Even Google Search, one of the biggest internet businesses around, is really just a crowd-sourcing device (by searching and finding, you help other people to search and find). With Windows 8, even stalwart Microsoft is embracing the open-source bug.
Therefore, I think that there are really two ways to think about the Patent Wars. On the stage right now, we have Apple and its lawyers, fighting a myriad of competitors and their lawyers, arguing in court which features we can have on which products. But on the larger stage, the great conflict is between the old proprietary closed model and the new open-source model. Here, I don’t see how Apple can stand a chance.
So what does this all have to do with us accountants? On the one hand, we might not be able to save money by buying cheap rip-off mobile phones. Furthermore, where there’s litigation, there are litigation support opportunities. Big deal. But in the larger war of ideas, we, too, are stuck in the old closed proprietary model. GAAP and GAAS are closed models, set by a small group of people. Audits, by their very nature, are closed and proprietary functions, protected by government regulation. If you think about the Patent Wars as part of a larger conflict of ideas, where a communal new open model battles against an older closed proprietary model, I fear that we have put ourselves on the losing side.