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Apple spends more on patents than R&D after Jobs patent vow

Apple spends more money on patenting stuff than it does on coming up with new ideas, after Steve Jobs vowed to "patent it all."

Apple now spends more money on patenting stuff than it does on coming up with new ideas. That's the result of Steve Jobs' vow to "patent it all" when the iPhone was created.

Last year for the first time Apple spent more money on patenting ideas than on research and development -- the result of a strategy of patenting everything, after being stung by a patent challenge from a rival.

The New York Times reports that the all-encompassing patent policy came about only after 2006, when rival company Creative Technology launched a patent lawsuit that ultimately slapped Apple with a $100m fine over the iPod. Prior to that, Apple was less fussed about patenting technology.

Stung by the huge financial blow though, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs decided to patent everything from that point onwards. The Apple boss held monthly 'invention disclosure sessions', where engineers described what they were working on to lawyers, who would then put in a patent application -- even if they knew it wouldn't fly.

"If nothing else, it prevents another company from trying to patent the idea" said a former Apple legal eagle. At least one engineer washed his hands of the policy, refusing to participate in legal meetings because he felt no-one should own basic software concepts.

This approach to gathering patents has seen Apple granted more than 4,100 patents in the last decade -- which it has fiercely defended in many legal battles. Jobs, who died a year ago, hated being copied, vowing "thermonuclear war" on Google's Android operating system, which he saw as copied from Apple.

Ever since, Apple has been locked in a bitter legal dispute with Samsung and other Android phone manufacturers. The legal gamble doesn't always pay off, and Apple has been ordered to offer an embarrassing public apology to Samsung.

Is patent warfare out of control, or is Apple just protecting itself from specious attacks? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.