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The Issue of Intellectual Property and The Free Culture

Motto: “From the earliest days at Apple, I realized that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If people copied or stole our software, we’d be out of business. If it weren’t protected, there’d be no incentive for us to make new software or product designs. If protection of intellectual property begins to disappear, creative companies will disappear or never get started. But there’s a simpler reason: It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character.” (Steve Jobs, as quoted in the biography by Walter Isaacson)
We are safe to assume that Bill Gates has the same philosophy when it comes to Intellectual Property for the simple fact that he made a fortune from IP. And many other Internet or media moguls do. The issue is not however as simple as Jobs described it for the simple fact that the Internet changed all the rules of the game when it comes to IP in some spaces.

Coca-Cola - original bottle patent

Coca-Cola - original bottle patent


Culture and Entertainment. In the cultural spaces, for example, the assumption from which most people start when they consume culture today is that culture should be free. Free open-air concerts, pirate websites and free content available on the Internet have created an idea in people’s minds that anything related to culture should be free. While in theory we can agree with this, there will always be the question of who’s paying the creators? Creating quality content takes time, talent, and dedication. The authors might have spent maybe years trying to create something valuable, but they are not able to cash. The solution is never free culture. It also can not come in the form of overpayment. How many of the movies you have seen lately were worth the price of admission? Regardless of the quality most of the DVDs cost almost the same. Let’s examine the case of the movies a little bit. I’ve just checked for some prices on the street and on-line and guess what I found? The last asian gore, a classic Dolph Lundgren feature, a simple chick flick and the last Tarantino costs the same. While this might be good news for somebody collecting movies in huge quantities regardless of the genre, in general it’s just a fact that helps the piracy even more, because some of the afore-mentioned movies might be of interest for purchasing just for the fans. Renting them on or offline is the usual solution, but it doesn’t solve the problem. The solution is deceptively simple: change the pricing and purchasing options. But how? Charging for quality is subjective (you never know how much somebody would pay for a certain movie) and also against the free culture mantra by all means, even tough it’s common practice (please check the pricing for the movies that won Oscars against those who haven’t, what do you notice?). This will remain an open problem, but purchasing options are definitely changing: from iTunes to Amazon and Hulu, entertainment and culture are available through all channels. We will not dive further into the pricing problem that is faced by the entertainment industry now. We will explore it with another occasion. One thing is clear: the desire for Free Culture and the mass adoption of piracy was not the public saying that they don’t want to pay for something, but rather the public saying that they are tired to eat crappy content and to search for years for certain albums or movies for the simple fact that the entertainment giant refuses to re-edit them. In certain countries where the payment was low and there was also a cultural gap (see former communist countries, for example) piracy flourished because publishing giants were ignorant when it came to their countries.
What happens to the software industry? Be warned that industry people and common people might understand different things through free software. As defined by Richard Stallman, Free Software is open software, software that comes with the code, but not really unpaid software. If you want you can have free software for which you pay. How does this sounds? Counterintuitive for sure. Free software is also software offered for free legally, software for which you don’t pay money. And of course, while we don’t like it, illegal software is also free, but nobody responds for it. Now here lies the true value: who responds for this software? Who responds if this software ruins my computer? If nobody does it, then you shouldn’t be using it because you don’t know if it’s safe to use it.
Intellectual Property at its strongest: Patents. Well this year was all about patents. Every major company had to fight at least a dozen process against patent trolls, but also against other major companies. It seems like nobody plays fair anymore. Without patents there will be no protection for new ideas, on one side, but also no source of income for inventors. And as we noticed already, it takes time and money to do something well. Patents are the real engine of the economy. They stimulate competition. Without them we will all be a bunch of copy/pasters, reduced to what the establishment already offers us, without any real capacity to bring disruptive ideas to the market. And yet even leading companies choose to eliminate it from their practices. We should all consider a patent as a recognition of his creator, an homage, as well as a guide to the invention.
Free Culture or Fear Culture? Free Culture is a recipient for disaster in any space. Can you image tourism thriving in a world of Free Culture? Not really. There is however a thriving fear culture that prospers in the shadow of Free Culture, a Fear Culture, a culture of people that are so scared by new ideas that they prefer to steal instead of experiment.

November 3, 2011 Permalink

One More Thing… A Biography

OK folks! That’s the last one about Jobs. We had enough in the last months and weeks. We respect him, but it’s time to move on. He would have wanted this. Otherwise he wouldn’t have given us his famous Stanford speech.
The reason we wrote this is to announce you that today is the official launch of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography. Isaacson wrote several successful biographies like those of Einstein and Franklin when he was approached by Jobs in 2004. The difference this time was that he was able to meet his subject and talk to him for many years and at least 40 times.

October 24, 2011 Permalink

Apple: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. The Show Must Go On, even without Jobs

It takes time to recover after such a huge news. It almost feels like The Beatles have disbanded again (should we remind you that it took years until Jobs brought The Beatles catalog to iTunes?). Steve Jobs steps down as the CEO of Apple, and, as expected, the new CEO is Tim Cook. While he doesn’t seem to have the same presence like Jobs, Cook was the interim CEO for all the periods when Jobs was unable to fulfill his duties due to health or other problems. While both Jobs and Cook assure us that the best is still to come for Apple, the previous days felt like a sad one.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Who was this guy, anyway? A college dropout who changed the consumer electronics space, music and film forever. He was also the CEO of Pixar, the computer animation company behind hits like Toy Story or Cars (later bought by Disney) and Next (later bought by Apple). For me, at least, he was also the guy who delivered the most famous speech in recent memory: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish (at Stanford University).

His evolution can be traced precisely to that famous phrase from the last issue of the Whole Earth Catalog: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. This is precisely what you need to do if you want to remain relevant for your whole career. If you want to be able to innovate your whole life. Jobs understood this since college. He always did what he wanted and also connected the dots.  He started with philosophy and dreams. Since he founded Apple he battled the other IT titan, William “Bill” Gates, for the supremacy. He was only able to win the war when his rival retired, but that’s another story. It’s what he did during this whole period that transformed him into perhaps the biggest CEO superstar we ever saw.

In the first phase he launched Apple and introduced design into the PC era. All web designers take notice! Perhaps the best remembered thing from those times is the Apple II and the Mac (launched through Ridley Scott’s visionary 1984 commercial). After he was thrown out from his own company he continued to innovate at the helm of Pixar (at first short animations then full-featured movies) and Next (on one of these computer Sir Timothy Berners-Lee wrote the first version of the WWW we know today). Back to Apple, for the next 15 years (until this week), he wrote history: iMac, iTunes, iPod, iOS, iPhone, iPad, Air and the retail experience. Just few products, but the waves they started have changed the world. This means they have: the best music player (hardware, software and store: iPod, iTunes), the best operating system for mobile devices and the best mobile devices (iOS + iPhone or IPad), the best laptops (is there any doubt on this one?), and so on. In fact we should write a book about the man and at least several books about Apple’s products and services to give justice to what Jobs has done at Apple in the last 15 years (not that his first tenure was bad, but the second was just history).

While we do feel a little bit sad that the next CEO is not the other superstar from Apple, their Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jonathan Ive, we know that Apple still has lots of things to say. If Jobs was able to pass at least a part of his life philosophy to the Apple employees (and we are confident that he was able to do that) than we do not need to worry, Apple’s future is in good hands. We just need to remind them, that now since they are number #1 and there is no reason to continue to Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, they have to do it, if they want to remain there. Goodbye Steve Jobs. Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish forever!

August 26, 2011 Permalink

Beyond PCs: The Big Players

It should be clear that computing does not mean PCs anymore. Today there is more computing power in mobile devices than there was in a PC 5 to 10 years ago. Most mobile phones come with processors that are comparable with the ones that you saw on PCs circa 2005-2007. Some of them are even have 2 cores. Since this is the case, we should ask ourselves who are the big players in this market. This short list reflects our opinions on the matter, but it might not contain all the players because the new mobile era is still young (should we call it 3rd generation? 1st generation: first mobiles, 2nd generation: smartphones, 3rd generation: tablets and 2nd generation smartphones).

Hardware + Software
Apple – With its IOS operating system aimed at mobiles and tablets is currently the market leader, but they only deliver high-end products and only few products. This is likely to cost them market share in the future.
Google + Motorola Mobility – We have explained in a previous article why this alliance is likely to succeed and what it means for the industry. Expect Android to be anywhere from refrigerators to cars. And they will also deliver the cheap devices. Likely to be the market leader in several months / 2 years if Apple doesn’t change his strategy.
Microsoft + Nokia – It’s not clear if they will end up together, but Nokia has an ex-Microsoft executive as CEO. We will be able to say something about this only after Windows 8, but Microsoft had a fantastic year because of Kinect.
Hardware
Intel – They provide the processors for almost everybody. And they also started making software. Still hard to say if they will someday provide both hardware + software, but it might happen. They do have software for this market, but it’s not iOS or Android level yet. This is why we put them here. We have to add a question mark. Will Intel play at 2 heads?
Samsung – Best Android experience yet. Their Galaxy line is sometimes even better than Apple’s iPad + iPhone. Likely to change because of the Google + Motorola Mobility deal.
HTC – 2nd place in the Android market after Samsung. Same observation like before.
Software
HP – The shock of the week: HP wants to sell his PC division. We understand why. What we don’t know is how will they play in this market as a software player. They do have an operating system, but one that doesn’t has a strong position.
IBM – For the moment we will put them in software, but they might return to hardware. Just that not in the way we would expect. Their research lab still produces processors and other hardware devices.
The rest
There are many companies that we have not mentioned and which are likely to play a major part in the new markets. There will definitely be at least one giant from China. There will probably be some giants from Russia or Europe. Why not even from Romania? Still, we listed just the ones that we will probably talk more in the coming weeks / months.

August 21, 2011 Permalink

Why Search Engine Google + Motorola Mobility means more than patents

We have all read too many articles that state that the deal of the year (Google + Motorola Mobility) means tons of patents. There is some truth behind this statement, but at most it is an understatement. First of all, because Motorola means more than patents. Motorola is a brand that for many was synonymous to the best in mobile phones and telecommunications. They created the famous transceiver stations that we still see in movies (used by the Police and FBI, but not only). They were the first to create a mobile phone. Their StarTAC and RAZR phones were probably the most imitated phones when they were launched (succeeding this twice it’s something quite rare in the mobile world). Motorola means radio, satellites, communication devices for transports (think trains, airplanes, etc) and many other things. Please don’t forget the fact that, while it is not Samsung Galaxy Tab, their Android tablet is quite good.
Android logo
Most of all, a company means people, not patents. And if you hire a hardware company that has your size, you better be sure you have some plan when you do it. IP(Intelectual Property) means patents, but also people, company culture, know-how about how to transform ideas into patents and state-of-the-art hardware technology. Google venturing into hardware should not be a surprise (as it was when Oracle did a similar move buying Sun Microsystems), because they are already working on projects like the self-driving car, that require also a lot of hardware skills. So, it’s not just patents, right? Motorola’s technology is perfect fit for the self-driving car. Their expertise in telecommunication for the transport business is almost unmatched. Their hardware for Android phones and tablets is not Samsung, but it can play in the same league with Samsung and Apple. Google’s unmatched focus on simplicity transported into hardware is not something new (remember Nexus?), but with Motorola Mobility it can join the likes of Apple quite soon. And these are just several reasons, why this means more than patents, but for a media that is in search of sensational headlines, you only get to see the surface of such a news at most. Too bad.

August 20, 2011 Permalink

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