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Apple, ARM, Lawsuits….Oh My!

So Apple is considering buying ARM, the makers of the processor chip for the iPhone. Their processors are also used in a large variety of devices including printers and netbooks. There’s even talk about it taking the market leader role from Intel’s atom processor.

Two interesting statements in the short article

1) Apple could make the processors more “Apple-ized”.

2) Apple could potentially block ARM processors from being used in rival smartphones,

The first may be unfounded at this point, but does give Apple the option to make changes which not only improve Apple products, but degrade others. The second really requires no further explanation and sounds right up Apple’s alley.

One of the “rival smartphones” companies is, of course, HTC. If you follow the industry at all, you’ve heard about Apple’s lawsuit against HTC over it’s Nexus One product. The lawsuit is still going so we’ve yet to see the long term outcome. However, we’ve already seen the short term outcome in a delay of the Verizon Nexus One. Think of what delays mean in this competitive fast-paced industry. And Apple was able to deal that to HTC without a conviction.

Now think what Apple could do to HTC with control over ARM whose processors power the Nexus one and others in HTC’s line. Not that Apple would ever dare to actually cut HTC off. But the wildly popular iPhone could start using most of ARM’s capacity, and it would not be unreasonable to say that the owner of the company has first dibs on output. So Apple controls both the amount of product, and the distribution of the product, but it would never use it to unfair competitive advantage. If you believe this I have some ocean-front land in South Dakota I’d like to offer you for sale. Think Microsoft buying Intel.

One of the great things about being old is having the benefit of history. Many of the people in the tech industry today may not remember when Apple was producing its first Macintoshes. At that time Apple filed suit against Microsoft for having a Graphical User Interface. To read the article now is funny, with Apple claiming sole ownership of “the existence of windows on the screen, the rectangular appearance of windows, windows could be resized, overlap, and have title bars” because together these were more than the sum of the parts. But back then Apple was as serious as it is now about the HTC suit.

The funniest part of that episode was that the idea for the GUI wasn’t Apple’s! Xerox’s PARC had done a huge amount of work in the Dark Ages. Xerox said they “had invited the Macintosh design team to view their GUI computers at the PARC research lab; these visits had been very influential on the development of the Macintosh GUI”. In a fun turn of events, Xerox in turn sued Apple as a defensive move. If the court ruled that the Mac interface was copyrightable, then Xerox wanted if to be clear the copyright was theirs.

I hope enough anti-competition concerns come up to block the ARM sale. And as far as the HTC lawsuit, I hope the results are similar to Apple vs Microsoft. Apple got claims to very few items, amongst them the trash can icon. Very useful for storing their strategies.

–Al-

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