By Todd Bernhard on Mon, 05/19/2014
Not with a bang, but with a whimper. That's how the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States ended and how the ongoing litigation between Apple (and NeXTstep) and Google's Motorola Mobility unit appears to have ended. The longstanding suits and countersuits stem from claims of each party infringing on the other's patents. This goes back to when Steve Jobs threatened "thermonuclear war" after Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, who sat on Apple's board, allegedly leveraged that insider position to create what is now Android. (Full disclosure, I worked at Sun Microsystems from 1988 to 1993, when Schmidt was Sun's Chief Technology Officer.) Alas, Steve is gone, and the more practical Tim Cook may have decided enough is enough. To Microsoft's credit, unlike Google, they did license Apple technology and Windows Phone is indeed quite different from iOS.
Google and Apple are not cross-licensing patents, but are ending their existing lawsuits. At the same time, Apple and Google claim they will work together to combat patent abuse. However, Samsung is not off the hook. With a jury verdict in favor of Apple, Samsung faces a penalty of over one hundred million dollars for their infringements.
This reminds me of a presentation I attended by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, at the Jacob Javitz Center in New York City a few years ago. He was discussing the meetings with Mikhael Gorbachev. Reagan and Powell were doubtful that Gorbachev was serious about Glasnost, or ending the Cold War. Finally, Gorbachev said, as if he was talking to the producers of the next James Bond movie, "Mister Secretary, I'm afraid you will need to find yourself a new enemy." I remember a chill upon hearing those words. We were in New York City and I thought how America did indeed find a new enemy, a few blocks away, on September 11, 2001. Sun Microsystems had an office in the Twin Towers, and I had been working there a couple of months before 9/11. Al Quaeda was an enemy born from the same Cold War, when the U.S. helped Bin Laden's Mujahadeen fight the Soviets. As if war isn't damaging enough, there is another tragedy of war—the unintended consequences.
Gorbachev recognized the cost of the Cold War was too great for the Soviet Union. Reagan and Powell were skeptical but Gorbachev knew that Americans seemed to always need an bogeyman. He just decided it wasn't going to be the USSR anymore. Perhaps Google's Schmidt and Apple's Cook feel the same way. The question is, will Samsung be the new enemy, or will the real enemy be traditional PC-style computing, flip phones, wearables, high-priced cellular plans, or other industries like Home Automation that could benefit from iOS or Android?