To Be And To Last #19

This week we explore a $909M patent award, an early clash between Gates and Jobs, and the most boring $31M profit you can imagine.

When Kodak and Polaroid fought to the death

In 1976, Kodak launched an instant camera that infringed on patents held by Polaroid (the company that had pioneered instant photography since 1947). Kodak felt untouchable, but in 1991 Polaroid won a massive $909M award (the largest settlement ever paid out until Apple v Samsung in 2018).

But both Kodak and Polaroid filed for bankruptcy only a few decades later. While they fought tooth and nail over the past, both companies missed the future of photography, with both failing to transition to digital. A Triumph of Genius shares a beautifully insightful and haunting view into the lawsuit that destroyed two innovation powerhouses.

When Microsoft and Apple fought, but didn’t die

"Well, Steve, I think there's more than one way of looking at it. I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it." - Bill Gates to Steve Jobs

Just about the same time that Kodak and Polaroid were falling prey to the innovator’s dilemma, Microsoft and Apple had a brief brush with the same possible fate. In 1983, Bill Gates announced the first version of Windows, which Steve Jobs felt was stolen from Apple.

But the lawsuit that followed was eventually thrown out on a technicality, and both companies become two of the best performing stalwarts of the next four decades. What led to such divergent outcomes? Why Apple and Microsoft manage to keep focused on innovation, while Polaroid and Kodak became entrapped in a tangle of corporate egos?

$31M profit from ice machines?

Sometimes boring pays: thousands of businesses around the world rent commercial equipment like dishwashers and ice machines. Machine rental might not be an area VCs want to invest, but the returns can be substantial and the risks low (due to high asset resale value).

In 2019, one investor made US$31M after selling Easy Ice, which rents out 25,000 commercial ice machines across the United States.

To Be And To Last: Thinker Nate Desmond’s weekly roundup of long reads, contrarian thoughts, and hidden jewels that aren’t getting enough attention.

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