Apple leads in one area: Litigation

After years as a business student, businessman and business professor, I cannot remember one instance or case where litigation was a strategy (the top level of R. N. Anthony’s pyramid of strategic, tactical and operational planning and management). Litigation as a tactic? Absolutely… Litigation in operations? Sure… But, suing to shut other competitors down is quite a stretch.

Michael Porter suggested and taught that there we only two true business strategies: price and product differentiation… Now, it seems, Apple has elevated suing your competitors to a whole new level. This strategy is aptly summarized in the Reuter’s graphic here:

Mobile Patent Suits
Mobile Patent Suits

This type of litigious action did happen during the 1990s when Texas Instruments sued numerous PC manufacturers [disclosure: I worked for Dell at the time] over intellectual property in the innards of personal computers. But that was an attempt to shore up TI’s sagging bottom line with additional IP license revenues, not protect TI’s all but dead PC business (you do remember TI’s PC don’t you?).

It is almost painful to think what will happen to technological advance if litigation becomes the popular new strategy. Someone at some point will assess the total cost of all the suits and counter suits… and quickly do the math to determine how much this litigious episode cost each handset owner. But the real cost may be in the defensive posturing of the companies and their assessment that nobody can innovate unless you have lots of patents or very deep pockets…

For no other reason other than the unintended consequences caused from a litigation strategy, I hope that Apple’s litigation proves fruitless so that no other company attempts this for the next 20 years.

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