Just Copying Someone's Technology Isn't Enough

from the much-more-going-on dept

When discussing patent related stories, people often claim that without patents, copycat companies would simply copy everything and put the original creators out of business. There are a number of reasons why this isn’t true (and plenty of historical evidence that it’s not true at all), but for a good example of this at work, just take a look at Google. Google is by far the dominant search engine out there, and it’s only been growing. It was first to market with a quality search engine, but many studies have pointed out that Yahoo and Microsoft have both caught up (and possibly passed) Google in terms of search quality. And yet, Google keeps growing. There are plenty of reasons for this, from Google’s “celebrity” (as the article implies) to Google’s clean interface to people generally trusting Google more than those other providers (to date, Google has done much less to piss off most people). None of those things have anything to do with the technology alone. There’s this view among patent system supporters that the technology is everything, when it’s really just a component in terms of what makes a business. Copying the technology is one thing, but there are advantages to being first to market, executing well, treating customers right and building a reputation. Just copying someone’s technology won’t get you very far on most of those other points, and shows that focusing solely on patents as a competitive advantage is unlikely to get you very far.

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Companies: google

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Comments on “Just Copying Someone's Technology Isn't Enough”

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Anonymous Coward says:


Patents are for losers! Just kidding, but it does point out the obvious, the product can be produced by anyone, and this is true in most businesses, but taking care of the people, those that bring you bread and butter, is what separates men from boys.

Some monopolistic companies should learn from this, instead of just copying the product itself.

PaulT (profile) says:


“Yahoo and Microsoft have both caught up (and possibly passed) Google in terms of search quality”

Really? I always find these services horrible for searching, especially MSN which never seems to find what I want and has really intrusive advertising. Google still does the job for me, I rarely have issues finding what I want and it’s easy to ignore ads.

That’s why I use it, not some lemming-style brand loyalty.

BlueFace says:

My Employer Copied/Stole Other's Technology

My employer copied/stolen technology and designs from his former employer while he was still working there & then launched his own company in superannuation adminstration software. So far we have done ok, but I dont think it will last as the company he copied it from have moved their technology on and we are effectively stuck at the point he copied it from them. It is one thing to copy/steal technology but it another to invent it.

Anonymous Coward says:

No. It's Quality.

No. It’s quality. The author of the article doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

All the search engines actually increased their quality by the about the same percent, relative to themselves. Google was already higher, thus a 10% improvement translates to a larger actual number for them. Both MS and Yahoo have actually lost ground over the last year.

And none of them have copied each other’s tech. The fact that they are in the same business, returning a search result, does not mean that the tech behind the result is the same.

A small amount of difference in quality (and it’s not small) results in a large market share difference because the cost of switching between them is zero.

Like the way people switch their radio or TV when the programming quality drops (ie: a commercial comes on). Cost of switching is zero. So many do. Which means the consumption of commercials has dropped. The correct response? Raise the entertainment quality of the commercials. Dropping the entertainment value of the shows has already been tried by the broadcast networks. And people switched to cable.

Online search is exactly the same. Google wins because they have a better product. Their product is backed up with patented technology. Just like traditional media is backed up with copyright.

The problems are that patents and copyrights are out of step with the modern world. Both should have been decreased in length.

David says:

Re: No. It's Quality.

You must be smoking crack. Microsoft’s search engine technology is not in the same universe as Google’s. For example, it is still much easier to find answers in Microsoft’s KB using Google than Microsoft’s own front end to their KB. Even after narrowing the searchable products in MS’s front end, half the time the searches produce results unrelated to the selected product.

john says:

Intellectual property

ALL of our forms of IP (copyright, patent, trade-secret,and trademark) are at odds with our traditional notions of the free market.

However, we have adopted them because of various philosophical viewpoints (most notably a utilitarian/economic incentive perspective). These viewpoints state that the principle objective of IP is to PROMOTE NEW AND IMPROVED WORKS, not to reward creators.

How do we do this? We grant special rights to creators. these rights protect the creators and their creations, but many times stifle other innovation (because others are prevented from using it). So, there remains this “tension” between society’s desire to encourage invention, and the rights that we need to grant to encourage innovation.

Now a key point to understand is that sometimes, we don’t need to give rights to encourage innovation (but we still do anyway). Google would still come up with new stuff, even if it didn’t have some kind of governmental protection. Google’s encouragement is the market response that it will have. Google is big enough, and savvy enough, to back up its invention in the marketplace.

Another example would be copyright protection. If we did away with this, would we see the death of creative expression? Would authors, musicians, and artists suddenly say “well, there’s nothing in this for me now, I’ll go do something else”? In truth, a few of them probably would, but the vast majority see the creation itself as the reward, and we would still see new books, songs, and paintings, etc.

Back to computers. The giants of the industry don’t need encouragement to innovate, the market does that for them; if they don’t continually improve, then they RIP. It is the small guys that need this protection, otherwise they and their innovations would be swallowed by the giants.

Put this simply, IP seems great. But just watch techdirt for a while and you can see a lot of the problems that arise: patents being granted willy-nilly (the statutory requirements are actually fairly hard to meet), “patent trolls” whose business is litigation and the threat of litigation, and frivolous lawsuits based upon copyright protection.

Can anybody else come up with a better plan; one that gives reasonable rights to works of creation, while balancing the other issues involved?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Intellectual property

Small guys does not need protection eiter.

For example, I operated a semi-popular wiki that get hundred of unique visitors everyday but I do not relies on copyright’s monopoly privilege.

There is an entire sector of the software industry that does not relies on copyright. Granted they do use copyright, but they do not use monopoly power of copright. Rather, they use copyright that essentially forever make them fair game to the competition and reinforce the free market’s dynamic.

This is not how copyright is meant to be used, but it does promoted the intended purpose, innovation in the marketplace. Practically, they did it the old fashion way, by competing with each other.

Rojo says:

Re: Intellectual property

I’m not sure the IP does in fact protect the little guy. I knew an IP lawyer in Phoenix who had numerous examples of the big guy driving the little guy out of business by claiming patent infringement. Everyone in the court room knew the case was garbage but the big guy could bury the little guy under so much legal paperwork that it cost the little guy every penny he made. It also tied up the few engineers they had replying to this nonsense (and probably drove more than a few engineers to quit – legal paperwork isn’t what they agreed to do for a living).

After a couple of years tied up in court, the little guy wins the case but his technology is now old, his resources have been tied up so nothing new is in the pipeline. He won the case but he couldn’t grow his biz and is effectively out of biz at the end of the case. What a win.

I don’t see IP as much protection.

just me says:

MSN is horrible

I never used MSN before last month at school by accident…..IE was set to msn search by default….and it was horrible I found what I was looking for a couple of pages deep into the search and since I could change the default on the scool PC I from then on just took the extra step and went to google.com which in my opinion is better…….

and excuse me if I’m wrong but I always though yahoo came in before google….

Anonymous Coward says:

Your mention of MSN brought up bad memories of the cesspool of talent which we call “Music Talent” on today on display on the “Trench Coat Exhibition Theater”-Channel.

The show is named after the famed Thomas Edison, called “The Gramophones”, but does nothing to honor this american hero.

Music Industry:

…(‘(…………. ¯~/’..’)

Bob says:

Critical Mass and Association

Google has become more than just a brand, its a verb. And the public now associates the verb with search. It’s become ingrained into the psyche of society. Microsoft and Yahoo had no business plan to move forward, they didn’t know how or what users wanted, instead gambling on the ‘portal’ concept of the 90’s. They lost. Google knew what users wanted instead, they wanted a simple box on a page with a search button, and nothing else: users don’t want links, they dont want ads, they dont want flash animations or snippets on the weather or hotel prices, or the dozens of other baloney items on their search page. Microsoft and Yahoo are dying in the search space because they can’t get this simple fact through their thick beauracratic heads.. they’re still trapped in ‘portal’ mentality. Until they do, we can expect Google to trounce them both mercilessly.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is pretty funny.. the article doesn’t seem biased at all; especially considering “google” tried to sell itself to all those major search engines and they all refused.. now they’re trying to bring them down with BS claims of “studies”…

Google is still more powerful than the competition, offers many more ways to search, and well, we’re not stuck using a “newb” interface that looks ugly as hell (*cough* yahoo *cough*).

But hey, it’s to be expected.. when you rule your world, others try to bring you down with their false claims and biased reports. Free speech is cool right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Off topic, but I am sick of people who don’t know how to spell, or punctuate. (The first couple posts are what spurred me to write.) Also, folks that mix texting shorthand with “longhand”, as well as those who don’t know the difference between the word sets such as, there, they’re, their. If we don’t pay attention to the details, they’ll turn around and bite you when you least expect! Perhaps I’m just getting old, and this is the digital equivalent of yelling at the local kids to “Get Off My Lawn!”

Haywood says:

Why Google rules IMO

I don’t know if the other guys engines work or not. I am so immersed in Google I’m unlikely to find out. I love Gmail, it raised the bar and keeps raising it. I now see others offering GBs of storage and larger file transfer, but too late, I’m hooked. I use the personalized homepage, the links section has all my usual “bookmarks” and if I crash, they will be there waiting when I rebuild, so will my mail. When I do a windows install, I use MSN once, to find Google, I use IE one more time to find Firefox using Google of course. Have I mentioned spell check and pop-up block when using the Google tool bar?

4-80-sicks says:

Re: Why Google rules IMO

I use MSN once, to find Google, I use IE one more time to find Firefox using Google of course.

You have to use MSN to find Google? Just want to confirm, I’m a little confused by that sentence–why not just type google.com in IE’s address bar? By the way, Firefox is always at getfirefox.com , if you want to cut out [what sounds to me like] two extra steps.

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