At the tail end of Apple’s quarterly earnings conference call today, COO Tim Cook (CEO Steve Jobs, who is taking a medical leave of absence, was not on the call) noted that 17 million iPhones have been sold to date. When he was asked about the rising competition from Android, Blackberry, and Palm, Cook made an oblique threat:
We approach this business as a software platform business. We are watching the landscape. We like competition as long as they don’t rip off our IP. And if they do, we will go after anyone who does.
This threat seems directed squarely at Palm, which recently launched it’s own answer to the iPhone: the Palm Pre. The Pre has a multi-touch interface, something which Apple holds patents on, and from which other competitors have steered clear. When Cook was asked if he was talking about Palm, he demurred:
I don’t want to talk about any specific company. We are ready to suit up and go against anyone. However, we will not stand for having our IP ripped off.
What makes this veiled threat even more personal is that Palm’s executive chairman is former Apple product chief Jon Rubinstein, who was installed by Elevation Partners. Elevation Partners is Palm’s biggest investor. They believe so much in the Pre that they just sunk another $100 million into the company, on their initial $325 million investment a year ago.
Maybe Rubinstein can use that cash to pay Apple a licensing fee.