Apple created a fuss when Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook gave some pointed comments directed towards Palm. The exchange took place during Apple’s recent earnings call. During the Q&A, one of the reporters asks, “There are other iPhone competitors coming to the market: Android, Palm Pre. How do you think about sustaining leadership in the face of these competitors?”
That’s when things went south. COO Cook responded, “It’s difficult to compare to products that are not yet in the market. IPhone has seen terrific rating from customers. Software is the key ingredient, and we believe that we are years ahead of our competitors. Having different screen sizes, different input methods, and different hardware makes things difficult for developers. We view iPhone as primarily a software platform, which is different from our competitors. We don’t mind competition, but if others rip off our intellectual property, we will go after them.”
Smartly picking up on recent talk of the similarity between Palm’s upcoming “Pre” phone and the iPhone’s interface, the reporter responds, “The Palm device seems to directly emulate the iPhone’s innovative interface. Is that what you’re referring to?”
Mr. Cook responds with a veiled threat, stating, “We don’t want to refer to any specific companies, so that was a general statement. We like competition because it makes us better, but we will not stand for companies infringing on our IP.”
If it weren’t for the issues surrounding Palm’s new phone, perhaps the comments could be considered ambiguous. However, Palm’s new phone features a multi-touch interface eerily similar to the iPhone’s, the first smart phone outside the iPhone to implement this. Further, it’s developed by Jon Rubinstein, formerly Apple’s head hardware engineer, who surely had intimate knowledge of the iPhone’s inner workings. He is not alone — Palm’s ranks are populated with ex-Apple engineers.
Well, perhaps the issue might have been settled or simply moved forward to less talk and more legal action, but Palm decided to take a jab back at Apple. Palm spokesperson Lynn Fox basically tells Apple to “bring it” in a recent comment to the blog All Things Digital. She states, “Palm has a long history of innovation that is reflected in our products and robust patent portfolio (31 pages of patents in Google Patent Search), and we have long been recognized for our fundamental patents in the mobile space. If faced with legal action, we are confident that we have the tools necessary to defend ourselves.”
Based on Apple’s comments, many in the blogosphere are hinting that legal action from Apple seems inevitable when Palm pushes ahead with its new smartphone. With a history of aggressive litigation, Apple seems unlikely to fail to back its threats.
And with Palm’s hopes of a turnaround riding on its new phone, it’s not about to give up without a fight. Thus the battle for the smart phone, and perhaps total phone sales crown may not be waged by the consumers this year, but in the courts.
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