As Walter Isaacson recounts in his best-selling biography, Steve Jobs promised to “go to thermonuclear war” over Google’s Android smartphone. But it wasn’t merely because Jobs was a fierce competitor. One of the greatest entrepreneurs in U.S. history, Steve Jobs was painfully aware that Google does not respect others’ intellectual property rights, and he understood that Google’s practices are a threat to innovation.
Jobs’ attitude toward intellectual property rights could not have been more different from Google’s. Steve Jobs didn’t manufacture and sell products at low prices. And he certainly didn’t dump free products on the market as does Google. Steve Jobs used his natural good taste and high standards to imbue products with added value. Based on his innate sense of functionality, ease of use, and elegance he was able to command significantly higher prices than his competitors.
Steve Jobs saw Google’s Android as the result of intellectual property theft. And he probably understood how Google expected to get away with it. Google can make more money using others’ intellectual property to sell advertising than its owners can make using the intellectual property to develop and sell products. That’s why Google is confident that if push comes to shove it can always purchase a settlement. But as Steve Jobs told Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, “I’m not interested in settling. I don’t want your money.”
There are other examples of how Jobs’ attitude toward intellectual property rights was the opposite of Google’s. Jobs made a habit of keeping new products secret until they were ready for a big, splashy launch. Google routinely introduces beta versions of products. Steve Jobs was a perfectionist; he expected Apple products to work flawlessly from Day One. Google offers its products “as is” and tells users, in effect, “don’t bother calling our customer service department—we don’t have one.”
Steve Jobs created the iTunes store so that consumers could buy music rather than steal it, and so that music producers could receive fair compensation. Google, in contrast, has aided and abetted online pirates. Google scans books without the copyright holders’ permission. Google has even asked artists to supply it with artwork in exchange for exposure rather than pay—as if Google were the starving artist.
The independent-minded Jobs swam against the current of “open systems” and demonstrated convincingly that end-to-end proprietary systems offer significant benefits to consumers. Nor was Jobs intimidated by widespread attempts to disparage proprietary solutions by labeling them “closed.” Jobs proved that he could consistently deliver great products and services using proprietary systems, and he also proved that proprietary systems are not an obstacle to multi-vendor support.
Google’s advocacy of “open systems” is hypocritical. Google urges others to use open systems because open systems are less private. Meanwhile, Google zealously guards its search engine and ad auction secrets—resisting all calls to make these systems more transparent.
Steve Jobs dismissed Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra because he understood that it was pure theater. He judged Google not by their slogans but by their actions. He saw Android as brazen theft and was determined to prevent Google from getting away with it.
Ira Brodsky is co-author with Scott Cleland of the new book Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc. Visit SearchAndDestroyBook.com.