Apple vs. Samsung: Irony or Karma Squared?

By Rob Enderle August 24, 2012

If you tilt your head to the side and revisit much of the history in technology, you’ll see a trend that implies that either irony or karma is running rampant in the industry (along with a substantial amount of historical piracy). Companies that were created by stealing technology are, themselves stolen from, and then copy others only to be copied again. Often, the repeating trend is that the innovative firm doesn’t understand what they have, another firm takes that innovation away from them, and history is made. But, more recently (and this is where Samsung comes in), the company takes something, improves it, and then has it taken from them. This is either karma or irony, you pick.


This all seemed to start with the Graphical User Interface and Mouse. Xerox PARC created them (in usable form) but didn’t see the value, Apple took them from Xerox (Xerox did get some founders shares) and made a market. Microsoft, who was partnering with Apple for productivity applications for the Apple II, asked Apple to license what resulted. Apple said no, Microsoft created Windows and took the market.  

Now, had Apple properly licensed these technologies from Xerox, Xerox could have either stopped Microsoft from copying Apple or charged Microsoft an arm and leg for them. But, since they didn’t, Xerox was shown to have inadequately protected the technology and Microsoft won the litigation and eventually paid Apple $100M (the related technology was clearly worth billions) partially to settle a related lawsuit with that company.  


The Newton was really the first PDA and Apple just wasn’t able to do anything with it. Many of the creators went on to form Palm, which created the PALM pilot largely from the ideas that surrounded the Newton. Microsoft tried to do the same thing to Newton that they had done to Apple and largely failed.   Apple eventually came back with the iPhone (basically a PDA + Phone) and the iPod Touch (basically a PDA with another name) and took dominance back. So the PDA was stolen from Apple, and Apple effectively stole it back from Palm (you could argue the iPhone itself was a ripped off of the LG Prada, but then it was clearly a rip off of the Palm PDA which was etc. etc.). Currently Samsung is well down the path of stealing it from Apple, with Google and the cell phone carrier’s help. 


Now this one was fun to watch because while Microsoft wasn’t the first to make tablets (this product has a fascinating past) they were the first to try to take them mainstream. Despite critical feedback from analysts like Gartner’s Leslie Fiering, who argued these tablets were too heavy and too expensive, the category languished until Apple delivered a light and relatively inexpensive tablet which showcased Bill Gates was right on the concept, but that Apple was far better on the execution. Apple basically stole the tablet from Microsoft who clearly didn’t understand what the market would require in a tablet.    Samsung is trying to steal this market from Apple but having far more difficulty because the carriers aren’t helping this time. 

Wrapping Up: If You Want to Be Successful in Tech be an IP Attorney

Really that is what I generally take away from all of this. With all of this idea theft going on, and at what appears to be an increasing rate, attorneys are going to be making a ton of money unless someone goes in and changes how all of this intellectual property is managed and protected. Given that when governments get involved they typically can’t agree on approach and often make things worse anyway I’m not expecting any relief anytime soon.  

Of course I’ll leave you with the worst tale of skullduggery I know and that is the story of the HP MP3 player. Never heard of it? That is because Steve Jobs called the then CEO of HP, Carly Fiorina, whose lab had created a better iPod. He, and I’m not kidding, convinced her that Apple had no real interest in the iPod long term, that HP would be allowed to transcode Windows Media into the iPod and would be able to ship them in color (at the time they were only white) in exchange for HP killing their own effort. HP announced the HP iPod in blue, a color that Jobs later refused to approve, and Apple preceded to break every promise they made leaving HP locked out of the MP3 player market. I was thinking the HP Touchpad was going to be HP’s revenge, but they screwed that one up themselves, that wasn’t irony or karma, just horrid execution. Personally, I still think Apple paid someone to screw that up because no one could accidently be that bad.  

Whether you think the industry is driven by karma or irony, one thing is for sure, it lives on drama.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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