March 3, 2010

An Open Letter to Steve Jobs Concerning the HTC Lawsuits.

Enforcing patents is wrong. You’ve famously taken and built on ideas from your competitors, as have I, as we should, as great artists do. Why is what HTC has done worse? Whether an idea was patented doesn’t change the morality of copying it, it only changes the ability to sue.

But when you sue someone for doing something you do yourself, you become one of the bad guys. Can you name a company you admire that spends its time enforcing patents, instead of innovating? Remember the pirate flag you flew over Apple's headquarters when you were building the Mac? Is Apple part of the Navy now?

And the iPhone needs competition to stay awesome. HTC won’t hurt your sales much, anyway — you know the iPhone’s success is because of the art in each of its million details, not because of a handful of tech patents. Who will want a pale imitation when they could have the original?

I always thought of you as a guy who’d say, “Well, copy me if you can, because you’re copying what I did years ago, and what I’m working on now is EVEN cooler!” I like it when competitors copy me because it means they aren’t about to leapfrog me: they’ll always be playing catch-up.

If Apple becomes a company that uses its might to quash competition instead of using its brains, it's going to find the brainiest people will slowly stop working there. You know this, you watched it happen at Microsoft. Enforcing patents isn't a good long-term play: it's the beginning of the end of the creative Apple we both love.