I don’t want to start any wild, unfounded rumors, but I just got off Apple’s conference call on its quarterly financial results, and towards the end of the call Apple COO Tim Cook started getting very protective of Apple’s intellectual property in the form of iPhone related patents. In answer to a question about iPhone competitors, he had the following to say:
“We’re very, very comfortable with where we are competitively…we like competition, as long as they don’t rip off our [intellectual property]…and if they do, we’ll go after them.”
The questioner then brought up Palm’s upcoming Pre phone and its sophisticated multi-touch interface specifically. In response, Cook said:
“I don’t want to talk about any one company…but we will not stand for having our IP ripped off and will use whatever weapons are at our disposal. I don’t know how much clearer I could be than that.”
Okay, what should we make of that? Cook didn’t say that Apple’s about to sue Palm or any other company that makes an iPhone-like phone, but he surely unloaded a warning shot across the bow of any company that would make a phone that was too iPhone-like. And while he didn’t mention multi-touch specifically, Apple has a bunch of multi-touch patents that it surely filed to help keep the iPhone unique. Here’s a nifty drawing from a patent filed in 2006–love that antenna and the fact that the phone appears to be five times as big as its user’s hand!–which I didn’t include in my recent Apple-patent extravaganza:
Who else has a multi-touch phone? T-Mobile’s Android-based G1 doesn’t have multi-touch; RIM’s BlackBerry Storm does, although not in particularly iPhone-like form. All evidence suggests that the Pre will sport the most compelling touch-based interface alternative to the iPhone when it shows up (before mid-year in theory).
While the Pre has certain iPhone-esque characteristics, I’m more struck by the many things that are wildly imaginative about its interface; I’d hate to see attacked in court as an iPhone knockoff. Palm has presumably done its best to steer clear of Apple patents all along. So if Tim Cook’s comments this afternoon had a subtext, I hope that it wasn’t “We believe the Palm Pre violates our patents, and we’re not going to let that happen.”