Monday, October 17, 2011

The other lessons from Jobs

I've alreadt blogged about my little homily on the lessons telcos could learn from Steve Jobs.

But not all the lessons we learn from Jobs are good ones - indeed there are some important public policy ones.

The management homily by example is given another good run by Dr Ray Welling in NETT magazine.

They list six Jobs statements;

* Things don’t have to change the world to be important.
* The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.
* It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
* They can have any colour they like, as long as it’s black (actually a mis-quote of Henry Ford - but the essence is the same - simplification is a key to success).
* It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.
* I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.

But there are other lessons to be learned.

Sam Varghese reckons that Jobs deserves more criticism for his obsessiveness about "proprietary software."

The issue isn't just about software. It is about the whole management of "intellectual property" as I wrote recently.

As the case between Apple and Samsung now moves in the US to a phase of Apple needing to establish the validity of its patents analysis of the Australian case reveals that the patents being relied on could potentially stop all other tablets. The article specifically mentions Android based ones, but the patents cover the navigation interface being first a "multipoint touchscreen" and second a "touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics".

One gets the feeling that if Jobs hadn't actually just lifted the Mac GUI from Xerox that there would have been a patent on mice and MS-DOS could never have become Windows.

If I can patent these kind of new ideas, could a professional athlete patent a new technique used in an event - think the first person to jump backwards over a high jump. Is that what we want?

Of course the law and economics types who think that property rights are what propel an economy would disagree.

But last week also saw the passing of Dennis Ritchie, whose development of UNIX and C has been described as a legacy that;

is the rich suite of devices and applications that we use on a daily basis. Everything from televisions to phones, tablet computers, mainstream computers, online e-commerce and banking — all of these things we enjoy on a daily basis stretch back to the work done by Ritchie.

Part of the issue is a very straight forward economic one (or industrial organisation) which is when does the exercise of the property right amount to monopolization and when does it merely amount to just reward for the innovation? The choice is not binary between having inventions in which there are property rights and a totally open source/IP free world. The question is whether there is a point at which refusal to licence, or unreasonable terms of doing so, is injurious to "economic prosperity".

The term "economic prosperity" has been carefully chosen here to incorporate both the idea of static efficiency but also the growth consequences of "spillovers."

It raises the really interesting question of whether the patent system that fuelled so much of the US economic success from the middle of the nineteenth century could be now harming the US economy. (Alexander Graham Bell's evidence to the 1910 Royal Commission into the Postal Service provides a nice comparison between the US and British patent systems then applying.)

Finally, just as a reminder that no one is a saint, the Jobs fixation on achieving low input prices could well be driving labour exploitation.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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