Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Creative tribute or subtle reminder of patent victory?

A FULL-PAGE advertisement from Mr Sim Wong Hoo, chairman and CEO of home-grown Creative Technology, paying tribute to the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, has created some buzz.
By Irene Tham, Technology Correspondent

The two companies were locked in a patent dispute several years ago, which ended with Apple settling the matter by paying Creative US$100 million. Given this background, some wondered if there was more to the tribute than met the eye.

The ad, which appeared in The Straits Times yesterday, had the text 'Remembering Steve Jobs 1955-2011' sitting on a black box which had one side framed by Mr Jobs' silhouette. Further down, it read: 'Thank you for the great lessons. Thank you for the great products. Thank you for bringing a bit of us to the whole world.' Mr Sim signed off below.


What rivals said of Steve Jobs

'The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come.'

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates

'Steve Jobs was a great visionary and a respected competitor.'

Co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie of BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion

'Today the world lost a visionary leader, the technology industry lost an iconic legend, and I lost a friend and fellow founder. The legacy of Steve Jobs will be remembered for generations to come.'

Mr Michael Dell, chief executive of Dell

'(An) innovative spirit (who) introduced numerous revolutionary changes to the information technology industry.'

Mr G.S. Choi, chief executive of Samsung, which is currently embroiled in a major court battle with Apple over patents

Mr Jobs, 56, died last Wednesday of respiratory arrest caused by a pancreatic tumour.

The ad, which cost a five-figure sum, had some asking what 'bringing a bit of us to the whole world' meant. A Creative spokesman would only say it was 'simply a tribute to Steve Jobs from Mr Sim personally'.

Marketing communications practitioner Billy Teo, 40, however, wondered if 'Mr Sim is reminding people that even Apple has to license technology from Creative'.

Mr Jimmy Yap, 43, founder of iMerlion, a blog devoted to iPhone apps, said it was possible the ad was trying to serve as a reminder of the legal tussle.

But, he added, it was also subtle enough to be interpreted differently by those who were unaware of the two companies' background.

In November 2004, when Creative's Zen MP3 player was second to Apple's iPod in the portable music player market, Mr Sim - now 56 - declared war on the iPod. 'The MP3 war has started and I am the one who has declared war,' he famously said. But the iPod reportedly outsold Creative's products by a ratio of 23 to one in the United States.

In May 2006, Creative sued Apple in California, claiming that the iPod maker had infringed on its patent. Apple counter-sued and their three-month legal tussle ended when Apple paid US$100 million in a settlement.

At the centre of the legal dispute was a patent covering a navigation interface that lets users choose songs to play back by selecting an artist, an album by that artist, or a specific song in that album. The interface is found in devices like the iPod and iPhone.

Associate Professor of Marketing (Education) Seshan Ramaswami of the Singapore Management University (SMU) noted that the ad, although a tribute, was also an advertisement for Creative. 'Any public announcement, especially one that is paid for, is an ad for the company whether that was the intent or not,' he said.

'I personally think this is not the best time to hint at the 'bringing a bit of us to the whole world' as it can give the appearance of capitalising on the unfortunate event even if that was not the intent,' he added.

Others thought otherwise. SMU's Professor of Marketing Philip Zerrillo said: 'I don't think Creative would choose the time of his (Mr Jobs') death to take a final shot at the man.' But there was also no denying it 'may be playing up its association with one of the most recognisable people on the planet'.

On online forums, others praised Mr Sim for his tribute. Creative was once a flag flier for Singapore as the first local firm to list on Nasdaq in the US in 1992. But the firm that invented the Sound Blaster sound cards for computers has been struggling to stay profitable. For its financial year ended June this year, it posted a net loss of US$47.2 million, widening from a net loss of US$38.8 million a year ago.

Last month, Creative announced several new products at a Berlin show. At a press conference here, it also unveiled new computer chips targeted at Android tablet makers. Mr Sim met the local media for the first time in about three years. Interestingly, invited journalists were told in an e-mail that they had to abide by certain conditions if they attended. Among them - they were not to mention other tablet players like Apple, or financial-related matters, in their reports.