Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Apple Tax vs. Dead Engineers

I just read an article on some of the "Apple Tax" arguments surrounding the Samsung vs Apple patent suits.  (Here is the Article)  While I think the article is a pretty good summary of the various strategies that the big tech companies have been employing.  It got me thinking about an alternate universe in which software patents were not legal.

In the patent free universe, there is no legal framework in which to apply pressure to your competitors.  So similar to our world, companies can compete for eyeballs, shelf space, prime product positioning etc via their marketing budgets.  I guess similar to our world... great marketing only gets you so far.  The only real difference would potentially be a mechanism where by one company could saturate the marketing space and thus deny access by the customers to knowledge of the other companies product.  Could work.

The second aspect is product differentiation.  If cloning products were legal, then what strategies could companies use to differentiate themselves?  Either move faster than the other company or retard that companies ability to move fast.  By what means? 

One mechanism, as in our world is to compete for talent.  Hiring the best and brightest is one way to execute the "Move Faster" strategy.  But there are only so many great engineers and like star athletes... soon the pay checks would be idiotic relative to the actual talent.  But... it could happen.  Rock-Star developers and a cult of the cooolest dev.... "Look pretty and code hard"... I can see that on a tee-shirt!

But whats the converse?  Retarding the competitors ability to move fast? .... Well... thats either removing their talent by hireing them away,  removing their ability to be productive (sabotage, industrial espionage, hacking) or in the extreeme case... remove their ability; full stop.  Have I gone too "Cyberpunk" for anyone?

The point I am making is that if the software patent mechanism (as flawed as it seems) was not availible as a forum for the heavyweights to punch it out... then where would all that power go?  The urge to beat each other would still be there... but it would be expressed in other mechanisms.  The marketing war is pretty unconstrained and realistically... does not differentiate the contentders.  They are still bound by a legal and social framework... so they can only exercise one strategy ("Move Faster").  There are very few specific product marketing campaigns (Except in politics) that have successfully used the other strategy ("Prevent the opposition moving fast")There have certainly been a few that dabbled in it... but nothing like the sledging that could go on if it was no-holds-barred.  Generally thats left to the tech reviewers....

So what channel would the endless bitter punchup move into? 

This is like looking at the history of the nation states over the past couple of centuries.  One gets an upper hand, so the others move in and sabotage, kidnap and murder their way around the advantage.  When there is a forum for overt conflict... they go at it hammer and tongs.... when there is not... covert conflict takes over.  At no point is there any lessening of the urge....

So perhaps we should be greatful for the software patent system.  Perhaps channelling their fury into the court room is much less evil than having all those resource channelled into crippling each other in less pleasant ways... like playing hunt the developer. 

You may now break out your best Keanu Reeves impression....

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