Recent Court Decisions Should Sober Apple

One of the enduring themes in American business culture is the proper use of power. Unfettered power is a Holy Grail in American business, but it has within it the seeds of its own destruction. Recent court decisions have driven that point home to Apple.


One of the constant concerns in my writing about Apple has been the proper use of corporate and personal power. Back in September 2008, I wrote "Apple Power Corrupts, Absolute Apple Power Corrupts Absolutely." There, I expressed a view about Apple

While it's nice to see our favorite company doing well, there are dangers that can and will befall any company consisting of human beings. It's natural. Recognizing that, some companies put explicit barriers in place to make sure that those tendencies remain in check.

When we don't see self-discipline and restraint in a company that can do as it pleases, then we start to worry.

Later, in March of 2010, I posted a Flashback File, a column that looked at some of my previous writings before I came to The Mac Observer. In this column from in October 1999, I talked about "The Limits of Power" and recounted:

Apple, having blundered in not registering the desired domain names for the iMac soon enough, tries to recover by accusing a Canadian teenager, Abdul Traya, of infringing on their trademark. The domain name was lawfully registered by the Canadian teenager, but Apple wanted it, so they took it by force, that is, without a court judgment.

My concern About Apple's power was early and has been ongoing.

Flash Forward

Typically, power goes unchecked until some dramatic event happens. In the case of Apple, what has happend is, I think, Martellaro's Third Law, which I mentioned in "Apple, Microsoft and the War Mentality."

No one changes his/her personal beliefs based on input from a peer or subordinate or social inferior.

Often it takes a clergyman, a judge, or a senior military officer to get some people to fundamentally alter their beliefs. Advice and counsel from perceived social inferiors never quite does the job.

The Big Bang

In the case of Apple, the dramatic event has been a series of court decisions. Here are some references to the more recent, notable cases.

1. Apple Signs Consent Decree with FTC over In-App Purchases

2. Judge Cote Denies Apple’s Request to Recall Her Watchdog

3. Appeals Court Greenlights Apple Anti-poaching Lawsuit

In these cases, there exists people and judges, who have disagreed with Apple's behavior and have set out to either set limits (#1, #2) or begin to explore limits (#3) on what Apple can do.

By and by, this is a good thing. As I've written before, more power doesn't make for better decisions, and when people of good faith have the means to call into question the behavior of corporations, it leads to introspection and developing wisdom by their executives.

Of course, the consensus is that the U.S. Government's antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft in the late 1990s forever crippled Microsoft, made the company too timid and took the wind out of the sails of its future. Apple is not nearly there, but the company has finally had a taste, with Judge Cote, of the sobering impact of a measured restraint on power -- irrespective of the merits of Apple's case. And it was a noble one, as Bryan Chaffin explains in "The Danger in Quashing Apple’s Anticompetitive Publishing Deal."

The point, in my perspective, is not whether Apple was right or wrong in the eBook antitrust case. Rather, it's that there is danger in believing so firmly in one's own entitlement to power that perspective is not gained on why a judge may wish to place limits on that unfettered power. It's a bellwether.

I'll finish with one of my favorite principles of authority quoted in the Flashback article above. It's something that modern executives, in a quest for power and riches, both young and old, often forget as the "business is war" metaphor is carried to undue extremes.

Authority is granted solely for the good of those tendered to, not the one granted the authority.


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