Steve Jobs is famously said to have remarked that he wished to sue Android out of the market, using various derogatory names to describe the “copycat” operating system. Google recently acquired Motorola and its patents, putting the company in a position to do something Apple may not have foreseen: assure mutual destruction in the patent wars.
So far, the patent fight has been one-sided, with Apple suing Google and various Android phone makers for perceived infringements on various Apple-owned smart phone and gadget patents. The only company that owns more patents than Apple in this arena, however, is Motorola. And now Google, which makes Android, controls Motorola.Now the inevitable has happened: Google has sued Apple for patent infringements and is asking the U.S. International Trade Commission to ban the import of iPhones, iPads, and Macs.
This is a move similar to the Cold War idea of nuclear deterrence, dubbed mutually assured destruction (MAD). It’s what drove the United States and the former USSR into side wars in Afghanistan, Vietnam, etc. rather than into direct conflict with one another. MAD was based on the idea that if the two superpowers battled directly, they would inevitably (and likely immediately) resort to nuclear war, which would assure the destruction of both parties.
In this patent war, Google has just thrown the first nuke at Apple, showing them that they are no longer in control of the war. If Apple fires back, it could degenerate into a MAD worse-case scenario. If they capitulate, they could lose their largest gadget market and billions in revenue. Their only choice is to talk if they want to remain a gadget superpower.
When Google acquired Motorola’s patent suite, they made it completely clear that it was almost entirely so that they could return volleys at Apple on equal footing. Apple now faces two battle fronts, as Samsung has long been in this fight and has, in fact, carried most of the Android side of the battle up to this point.
Were Steve Jobs still in charge of Apple, it’s very likely that the company would ignore MAD and the probable consequences and jump straight into the fray with all red buttons pushed, sending everything they’ve got at Google and Samsung, almost guaranteeing mutual destruction.
As it is, however, Jobs is not the man in charge of Apple and though Cook has continued Jobs’ policies during his short time at the helm so far, he is also in a better (public relations) position to back down and come to an equitable agreement than his predecessor was.
If that happens, it’s likely that the three can come together for some kind of understanding and the gadget market will remain intact (and thriving). Otherwise, it’s almost a guarantee that at least one, if not all, of them will be taken out of the market to the great detriment of everyone.