Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) broke from the larger topic of discussion to talk intellectual property with Cook during Tuesday's Senate hearing on taxes. Asked by Ayotte about the intellectual property benefits of running a company based in the United States versus those in other countries, Cook responded that, actually, the U.S. system could use improvement.
"I actually think," Cook said, "that we require much more work on IP in this country."
The Apple chief's response appeared to take Ayotte aback, as she had been asking on intellectual property in the context of China, where bootleg Apple Stores have occasionally been known to spring up.
Cook specifically pointed out the slowness of the U.S. court system, which can take years to resolve or even come to trial. The process, Cook said, is ill-suited to deal with the realities of the technology sector, which can move through several cycles in the time it takes the court system to resolve one case.
"The U.S. court system is currently structured in such a way," Cook said, "that it's currently difficult to get the protections a technology company needs, because the cycle is very long."
Cook no doubt was referring to Apple's ongoing struggles with a variety of manufacturers making devices running Google's mobile operating system, Android. More specifically, the Apple head likely referred to South Korea's Samsung, which leveraged close knowledge of Apple's operations to turn itself into the world's largest smartphone manufacturer in terms of units sold.
Apple won a $1.05 billion verdict against Samsung when a jury found last year that Samsung had infringed numerous Apple patents. That decision, though, is currently wrapped up in the appeal process, and part of the verdict has been set aside, possibly for an entirely new trial.
Aside from that first verdict, Apple also has another suit in the U.S. against Samsung. Apple recently sought to add Samsung's newest flagship smartphone to that suit, alleging that the South Korean phone maker continues to infringe Apple patents. That suit, though, isn't scheduled to begin until 2014, underlining Cook's point on timing and cycles.
"For us, our intellectual property is so important to our company," Cook said. "I would love to see the system strengthened to protect it."