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Steve Jobs Is Now Bad for Apple’s Reputation

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To say that recent lawsuits have been terrible PR for Apple would be an understatement.

The company’s ongoing copyright battle with Samsung, for example, produced a string of internal emails between its marketing manager and its ad agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day, over “brand likability” and the failure of recent campaigns to elevate the iPhone over the Galaxy.

The other big suit going on at the moment concerns supposed anti-employee collusion between four top tech companies: Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe. The plan’s mastermind was Steve Jobs himself, but Apple would prefer that no one mention that fact at trial.

While the purpose of the unwritten agreement at the heart of the suit was supposedly to prevent the companies from poaching each other’s employees, the engineers who worked for them understandably don’t see it the same way. And as today’s Wall Street Journal headline puts it, Jobs’ “behavior [is] an issue” in the suit.

In fact, Apple’s lawyers filed a motion specifically to exclude all evidence pertaining to Jobs and his notorious aversion to compromise.

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Apple wants to both protect its own reputation and counter any perception that its late, highly celebrated leader was both a business genius and a man whose desire for control inspired him to make ethically questionable decisions.

One thing is clear: there’s no way to separate the man and his personality from the case. As Google co-founder Sergey Brin put it last year:

“Steve was kind of irate and agitated and irrational about lots of things.”

This is less about Steve Jobs’ worth as a human than the way he chose to do business–and the culture he inspired. And it’s an especially sensitive issue for a company so closely identified with its late CEO. Apple’s lawyers said:

“Free-floating character assassination is improper, and plaintiffs should not be allowed to engage in it in this trial.”

This statement may be true–but the case also reveals the dangers of tying a brand’s reputation to one individual who was just as imperfect as the rest of us.

In other words, expect a very generous settlement.

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