Back when I did real work as an engineer in the defense industry, you know, back in the good old cold war days when you knew who the enemy was, there was another very large “engineering” company in the same industry with whom we dealt quite often.I put engineering in quotes because from my perspective and that of my peers, it seemed this company had more lawyers than they did engineers. They spent more time suing their competitors and their clients than they did actually engineering things. We all despised them and avoided them at all costs. (In case you’re wondering, they will remain nameless because they’re still around and I don’t want to get sued.)
I’ve been reminded of those days recently when it seems all the high tech companies would rather spend their time suing each other rather than innovating. I know, they are products of the justice systems we have setup, but I’m going to rant anyway. They don’t have to act as they are, they could take the millions they pour into lawsuits and get more innovative products to market faster. Imagine that, winning because consumers like your stuff more.
I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that this is a recent phenomenon. If this bad behavior had been prevalent in the industry at its beginning, things would look a lot different today. To name a few:
- If VisiCalc (the first spreadsheet by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston) had been patented we would never have had Lotus 123, SuperCalc, QuatroPro, Google Spreadsheets, Excel.
- If the graphical user interface had been patented by its inventor we wouldn’t have Microsoft Windows… and surprise, we wouldn’t have the MAC either. Sorry Apple-heads, Steve Jobs didn’t invent the GUI, he stole it from Xerox after getting a tour of their Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
- If the mouse had been patented…well you know. And again, that was Xerox, not Apple.
- And what about the Internet? Al Gore could control the world right now if he had patented it.
OK, maybe I’ve gone too far. But you get my point.
You think lawyers are expensive? Google just bought Motorola for over $12 billion ostensibly to get their treasure trove of patents. It’s the lawyers, the acquisitions, the whole infrastructure of a legal war that weighs the industry down. And as you can guess, the consumer loses in the end. Companies will recoup their war costs, through increased prices, lower costs in engineering (less innovation) or less service. It’s essentially a hidden, commercial tax. Just think of it as the lawyer tax.