– Jason Voiovich, Director of Corporate Marketing, Logic PD
Last week, the US Patent and Trademark Office conferred upon Apple the Excalibur of intellectual property: The GUI patent that covers the general operation of today’s smartphone and tablet universe. Officially, it is patent 8,223,134 and you can read all about it here, or in excruciating legalese here. Bottom line, it covers the disappearing scroll bar. Swipe to unlock. Camera. Phone. Keyboard. Essentially everything “touch” about the current smart-phone interface.
Think about it for a second. This award means every Android tablet and smartphone – every single one – could be interpreted, as in violation of Apple’s broad-reaching interface patents.
That’s a big deal.
The lawyers will have a bunch of fun hemming and hawing over the legal implications of the award, the subtlety of the language, and litigation strategies. Pundits will bemoan the rise of the “patent hoarders” and the chilling effect they may have on innovation. The particularly frothy among them will suggest the patent itself has outlived its usefulness as a catalyst for invention, and that China’s lax IP laws are the answer to rekindle disruptive innovation.
I’m more interested in what the average consumer might make of this. Because the winner of the opinion battle is the real winner here, no matter what happens in court or in Congress.
And to answer the public opinion question, we can use a useful communication theory tool. It’s called the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) and its power is in its simplicity. In one sentence, ELM reminds us people mentally process information differently depending on how engaged they are with the topic at hand. In other words, you might consider the purchase of a Snicker’s bar differently than you consider the purchase of your next car (at least, one would hope). It seems simple, and obvious, but how often have you seen communicators get it wrong? I’m thinking of 30-second spots summarizing reverse mortgages or full page ads touting Dr. Pepper’s 23 flavors.
Let’s see what ELM has to say about the coming battle between Google and Apple over smart-phone interface patents.
Of course, different audiences will “elaborate” (read: be more interested in) different messages at different times. However, both companies need to carefully read general buyer opinion to deliver the right message at the right time. If buyers are tuned out, blunt messages work best. Even better if they can appeal to some grander purpose or ideal. Subtlety is a mistake. You’re either with us or against us.
Contrast that with a highly engaged buying public. If you don’t think this could happen, just consider what happened to the engagement level of the buying public in the recent Viacom/DirecTV spat. The average person actually understood network bundling and what it meant for their satellite bill. If the Apple/Google fight moves into some sort of “cease and desist” remedy, you can bet that the average Android user will quickly get up to speed on patent law.
We shall see.
In all of these scenarios, we can see “winning strategies” for each company. The real trick is not the message, but knowing when to use it.