Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that he wants other companies to "invent their own stuff", and that Apple shouldn't be "inventor for the world".
Google General Counsel Kent Walker disagrees, and this month wrote a letter to the US Senate Judiciary Committee arguing that commercial inventions that impact "consumer welfare" should be just as important as technical patents.
All Things D's John Paczkowski interprets Walker's argument thusly:
"In other words, Google’s view is that just as there are patents that are standard essential, there are also patents that are commercially essential — patents that cover features that are so popular as to have become ubiquitous. The latter are just as ripe for abuse as the former, and withholding them is just as harmful to consumers and the competitive marketplace. Viewed through that lens, multitouch technology or slide-to-unlock might be treated the same way as an industry standard patent on, say, a smartphone radio."
Apple strongly disagrees. Bruce Sewell, Apple's top lawyer, writes a rebuttal letter to the committee, saying in part, that simply because a "proprietary technology becomes quite popular does not transform it into a ‘standard’ subject to the same legal constraints as true standards."
In other words, simply because an Apple technology is extremely popular with consumers, doesn't mean Apple has to license that technology to competitors. Apple owns numerous patents regarding nearly all iOS technologies, a fact that Steve Jobs touted when he launched the first iPhone in 2007.
From Sewell's letter:
"The capabilities of an iPhone are categorically different from a conventional phone, and result from Apple’s ability to bring its traditional innovation in computing to the mobile market. Using an iPhone to take photos, manage a home-finance spreadsheet, play video games, or run countless other applications has nothing to do with standardized protocols. Apple spent billions in research and development to create the iPhone, and third party software developers have spent billions more to develop applications that run on it."
Though Tim Cook has said that he hates lawsuits -- once calling them "a pain in the ass" -- he has said he will staunchly defend Apple's inventions from copycats.
Steve Jobs was quoted in his biography as threatening to "go thermonuclear" on Google for what he considered the theft of Apple's intellectual property regarding the Android operating system. He pledged to spend every penny Apple had in the bank, a war chest that has since grown to more than $100 billion, fighting a legal battle with the company.
All Things D has the full text of both letters, as well as a much deeper analysis of the legal aspects of the situation.