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Imitation May be Flattering, but it’s Expensive

You’d pretty much have to live in a burrow to have missed that Apple was suing Samsung, or that they won a billion-dollar judgment for their efforts (pending appeal, of course). I have a lot of reservations about our 18th century intellectual property laws and their ability to serve today’s technology community well, but that’s a subject we won’t dig into right now. Rather, this whole experience does offer important insight into the disciplines of innovation and differentiation.

This weekend Cassidy James wrote an excellent article in The Verge on how Google avoided Apple’s trade dress in its Android devices (read the article here). What struck me most about the article (other than the fun and well-written history therein) is the important lesson for strategy that serves all of us, whether or not we are interested in technology.

Google is so knowledgeable about Apple’s patents that they were able to willfully, creatively, innovatively avoid imitating Apple’s products, and in the process, they created interesting, different, highly useful devices for the community of tech users for whom Apple just doesn’t do it.

This is what all product developers are challenged to accomplish. To know the competition so well that they know what not to do, and then to bring so much creativity and intelligence to the table that they are able to create something entirely different. Whether your product is a designer good, a service, a retail store experience,  a taste or scent, or a software product, this is the work of differentiation.

Remember – you don’t need all the customers, you need the right customers. And genuine innovation is one sure way to reach an audience that is currently not being well-served.

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