Mutually Assured Destruction: Google/Motorola vs. Apple

Welcome to the next logical step in the world of patent warfare: mutually assured destruction.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
If Apple insists on playing with MAD in its patent lawsuits, you may not be able to buy any Apple gear later this year.

Apple has been asking for it, and now they're getting it.

Cupertino has been doing its best to sue Samsung's Android tablets and smartphones out of the market rather than compete with them. Now, Motorola -- under Google's control -- is returning the favor. Motorola Mobility is asking the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to ban the import of iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

Welcome to the next logical step in the world of patent warfare: mutually assured destruction (MAD).

For those of you who didn't grow up during the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union, here's how MAD worked.

In MAD-driven foreign policy, the U.S. and the Soviet Union never let things get too ugly between the superpowers because if one of them went too far, the other could bomb the other into the Stone Age and vice-versa. So, yes, there were all kinds of wars from the '50s through the '80s -- Afghanistan, Angola, Korea, and Vietnam -- but the great powers never launched nukes at each other.

MAD was a cold, hard policy; but it worked.

Apple decided to go after Android, in the form of leading Android smartphone vendor Samsung, in what Steve Jobs called "thermonuclear war." Jobs may have been a great leader and a brilliant thinker, but he was no Henry Kissinger when it came to business partnerships and lawsuits.  

Samsung promptly returned Jobs' nukes - asking for Samsung's smartphones and tablets to be banned - by throwing their own nuclear warheads back at Apple. Samsung demanded that Apple's iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPad 2 should be banned from sales for patent violations. It was then only a matter of time before Samsung's main ally, Google, would enter the fight.

As I predicted once Google was armed with the Motorola patent portfolio, it would go after Android's lawsuit happy enemies. Heck, Google chief executive Larry Page himself had said: "Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google's patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies."

That day came. First, Google/Motorola hit Apple with a patent lawsuit that may yet end up banning the sale of iPhones in the US. Apple may, however, be able to dodge this bullet if the ITC rules that these patents were licensed under "fair and reasonable" (FRAND) terms.

This new lawsuit though doesn't have the FRAND fallout shelter. If Google gets its way with the ITC, there might not be any Phones, iPads, and Macs on store shelves sometime soon. Apple never should have gotten into this all-out patent war with both Google/Motorola and Samsung.

Even back in 2005, I said just how stupid it would be for companies to get involved in a patent MAD war.

Jobs insisted on making it a winner-take-all grudge match and, for some reason, Apple's current chief executive Tim Cook has stayed the course.

Sure, Apple has just become the most valuable company ever, but how long will they stay that way if Apple loses big at any of these patent lawsuits or ITC hearings? Remember, this isn't really about Apple paying megabucks to its rivals; it's about having the iPhone, iPad, and Mac being banned from sale.

How much will Apple be worth if it can't sell the iPhone 5 in the US in September? How much will Apple be worth if Apple can't sell its products in the 2012 holiday season?

If Apple wants to take a chance on going from being the biggest company of all time to being the all-time example of how a company can destroy itself with dangerous lawsuits. Cook and Samsung chief executive Kwon Oh Hyun should come to an mutually beneficial agreement as soon as possible instead of continuing to play at business thermonuclear war.

To quote from the 1983 movie, WarGames, there's only one way to "win" at thermonuclear war: "The only winning move is not to play."
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