Something tells me that microprocessor specifications (at the level that an Intel engineer would be dealing with) are actually valuable intellectual property, not just some sort of vague idea about a unified online Harvard facebook that Zuckerberg changed several times as Facebook developed.
Yeah, it was probably a bad example. But my impression is that you'd be hammered for even taking something vague out of a place like Intel or Apple. If Jobs gives you a high-level idea about the next Apple product, and you quit and do something vaguely like it on your own, even if you change it a bunch, you'll definitely be in court if your idea is even remotely like the one you got paid to work on.
Jon Rubenstein was an Apple VP and the head of iPod until 2006. In 2007 he went to Palm and spearheaded their smartphone development. You don't think he had a "high-level idea" about the iPhone before he left? I don't see him in court, and given Apple's (and Jobs') penchant for intellectual property litigation that says a lot.
Given Palm being another company with deep pockets, it may not say all that much. Elite companies don't like having legal battles because most of them are Pyrrhic victories and should only be fought over major matters.
True, but Palm would have been more difficult. You cannot get a patent for "build a better phone" or "interface that doesn't suck" which is what they likely would have gone after Palm for. Also, there isn't a prejudice against Palm, but plenty of people view MSFT with disdain and MSFT has in some ways been victims of their own success making them an easier target.
I don't know a single recent Apple product that's truly innovative, including NeXT. Please fill me on this:
* Apple II had tons of competitors on the market
* Lisa/Macintosh? Xerox PARC roots
* iPod? Tons of poorly constructed devices before it
* NeXT and OS X? Obj C is not the first "C with objects" language, Mach kernel is from CMU
* iPad/Newton? Tons of prior art (the idea itself belongs to Alan Kay)
I have major problems with Apple (they aren't friendly to hackers who don't work at Apple), but the fact that people forgot the predecessors of Apple's devices is only an example of importance of execution.
It's surely innovative and a great product, but there's very little on the iPhone that hasn't been done elsewhere before. Apple merely had the design and engineering talent to put together a coherent product based on those ideas.
If these engineers left with only vague product design ideas in their heads (e.g., use triangulation for location awareness, use an accelerometer for rotating the screen) and built their own iPhone work-alike (which is difficult work), I'd side with them as well.
The thing is very little is truly completely new and if it is it is usually isolated research on an idea which is later use in a product which gets the tag of getting the idea's elsewhere. Incremental improvement of a basic concept is how us humans work best, most concepts stretched back far enough can be said to be based on some previous work, excluding a few true outliers that have advanced us.
Look up the meaning of "innovation." It's not the same as "invention." Innovation is when you take an invention and make it practical. That is, bring it to market in a product that has a significant impact. Apple has surely done this many times.