This past weekend at an event hosted by the magazine Vanity Fair, Apple’s (NASDAQ: APPL) Jony Ive had some strong words for Xiaomi and other “copycats” — accusing them of outright theft — but these claims were strongly rebutted by Xiaomi’s Hugo Barra.
Speaking with Vanity Fair, Ive said that he thinks copy-cat designs, from rivals such as Samsung and Xiaomi, were the product of laziness as well as being out-and-out theft.
“I’ll stand a little bit harsh, I don’t see it as flattery,” Ive said during an on-stage interview with Vanity Fair’s editor Graydon Carter. “When you’re doing something for the first time, you don’t know it’s going to work. You spend seven or eight years working on something, and then it’s copied. I have to be honest, the first thing I can think, all those weekends that I could have at home with my family but didn’t. I think it’s theft, and it’s lazy.”
Days later, when asked to respond to Ive’s comments during an interview with India’s Economic Times, Barra said that Apple has no rights to claim ownership of a “design language.”
“If you look at the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 has been using the design language that has been around for a while. The iPhone 6 is using design language that HTC has had for five years,” he said.
Who copied whom?
As the blockbuster Apple v. Samsung court case of 2012 showed, the question of who’s the originator and who’s the imitator sometimes becomes ambiguous. Granted, Samsung (KRX:005930) was found guilty of violating a number of Apple’s patents, but at the same time the company presented evidence which it claims showed it was developing a rectangular black smartphone with a touchscreen before the release of the first iPhone in 2007.
Although this evidence was not entered into submission for the trial in 2012, it didn’t stop Samsung’s lawyers from sending it out to journalists covering the case at the time with the following statement:
“The Judge’s exclusion of evidence on independent creation meant that even though Apple was allowed to inaccurately argue to the jury that the F700 was an iPhone copy, Samsung was not allowed to tell the jury the full story and show the pre-iPhone design for that and other phones that were in development at Samsung in 2006, before the iPhone. The excluded evidence would have established beyond doubt that Samsung did not copy the iPhone design. Fundamental fairness requires that the jury decide the case based on all the evidence.”
In this case, Xiaomi, the nimble startup that’s been taking China by storm, is being unfairly marginalized; Apple is no saint when it comes to integrity of its intellectual property. This is simply a case of the market leader trying to swat away its competition.