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Documentary On The History Of Apple And Microsoft Show It Was All About Copying, Not Patents

from the just-a-reminder dept

We recently posted about an absolutely ridiculous NY Times op-ed piece in which Pat Choate argued both that patent laws have been getting weaker, and that if we had today’s patent laws in the 1970s that Apple and Microsoft wouldn’t have survived since bigger companies would just copy what they were doing and put them out of business. We noted that this was completely laughable to anyone who knew the actual history. A day or so ago, someone (and forgive me, because I can no longer find the tweet) pointed me on Twitter to a 45 minute excerpt from a documentary about the early days of Microsoft and Apple and it’s worth watching just to show how laughably wrong Choate obviously is.

There are two key themes that stand out incredibly strongly in this: both Microsoft and Apple did an awful lot of what they did by shamelessly copying the work of others, and the big companies floating around the space (mainly IBM and Xerox) clearly had no clue at all about what was going on. The few times they discovered interesting things, they didn’t know what to do with them, and let Microsoft and Apple walk all over them to build something better that people wanted. And when they tried to jump into these markets by copying the work of Apple and Microsoft, they tended to do a really bad job of it. On the copying front, while most people are familiar with Apple copying the GUI from Xerox, less well known is the story of Tim Patterson at Seattle Computer Products reverse engineering CP/M based on understanding CP/M’s APIs to create the early versions of DOS that Microsoft licensed to IBM.

Also noteworthy: no discussion of patents at all. At the very end of the clip there’s a bit of a discussion from former Apple CEO John Sculley concerning Apple’s legal fight with Microsoft over the look and feel of the GUI. He mentions there was nothing patentable, but that they felt it was a copyright violation. However, he also notes that Apple’s strong belief that they could stop Microsoft via copyright also led to complacency within Apple, and less focus on competing by innovation.

In other words, the claims Choate makes are laughable. There was little to no reliance on patents during the early days, and a very strong culture of copying anything and everything, while competing by trying to out-innovate each other. Furthermore, big companies couldn’t figure out what was going on, even if they wanted to copy these successful upstarts. At one point, Larry Ellison jokes about how IBM stupidly ceded the chip market to Intel and the OS/application market to Microsoft when it could have owned it all.

One point about the video. The YouTube link says this is from the “documentary” Pirates of Silicon Valley. That’s incorrect. If I remember correctly, Pirates of Silicon Valley was actually a “TV movie” based on the same subject material, with Noah Wylie playing Steve Jobs and Anthony Michael Hall playing Bill Gates. Instead, I’m pretty sure that the clips are actually from the documentary Triumph of the Nerds, put together and narrated by Mark Stephens, who is better known as Robert X. Cringely (there’s another interesting historical story about the legal fight over the Cringely name, but that’s a totally different tangent). This documentary actually came out in 1996, so it’s interesting to see how it mostly predates the internet (though there is some discussion of the internet), Jobs’ return to Apple and a variety of other things that happened over the past 15 years. Either way, it should put to rest Choate’s silly claims.

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Companies: apple, ibm, microsoft, oracle, xerox

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Comments on “Documentary On The History Of Apple And Microsoft Show It Was All About Copying, Not Patents”

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MrWilson says:

One question: Did the documentarian properly license the History??? of Apple and Microsoft from these respective, respected job-creating benevolent corporations?

I’m sure historic-knowledge-imbued lawyers for the companies would have a lot to say regarding the lies being told by people who were actually there and may have even participated in the founding and operation of these companies.

Also: Apple has always been at war with East Microsoftia.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t know about nowadays, but for most of their existence, Apple & Microsoft have absolutely been in cahoots. Remember, at least until recently, Apple & Microsoft are not competitors. They exist in different markets — Apple does hardware, Microsoft does software.

In fact, Apple would not exist today if it weren’t for Microsoft bailing them out with a lot of cash during their dark times.

The historical animosity between Apple & Microsoft has been, in large part, an intentional and clever bit of marketing on the part of both companies.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m pretty sure Apple had the first commercially viable GUI available to the home market that was capable of desktop publishing…Lisa was one the original Macintosh was the other. Xerox Star was only available on a corporate market set.

Even with the Altair 8800, you had to program it using switches…so I think the Apple 1 had a concept called a keyboard that pretty much everyone else started using shortly after.

Joe Smith says:

Re: Altair 8800

The Altair 8800 had an I/O card that talked to an ASR33 Teletype. In February of 1975 when Gates and Allen demonstrated BASIC-80 to MITS, Allen used the switches only for the purpose of entering a 21-instruction bootstrap loader. The actual program, “4K BASIC”, was loaded from the paper tape reader. User programs were entered from the teleteype’s keyboard and saved on paper tape.

Keyboards for microcomputers had existed long before the Apple 1. Anonymous Coward is talking about the idea of including a factory-installed keyboard in the case, which is different from “a concept called a keyboard”.


Re: Tweak the numbers until they give you the spin you want.

There are so many qualifiers in there that it makes your claims pretty much meaningless.

There is nothing inherently inventive about making something cheap enough to sell to consumers. That likely just means that you are ripping off ideas that are already commonplace in more expensive corporate and academic systems.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not that I’m a fanboy of such, but the TRS-80 had a keyboard at about the same time as the Apple II. I don’t know who was actually first, nor do I care. But they were both available about the same time in the late 1970’s.

Other microcomputers tended to use a separate terminal, which was a much simpler, modular but significantly more expensive approach.

The built in keyboards could be a cheap calculator keyboard like array of contacts mapped to memory that could be scanned and debounced in software. It was a good idea for both cost, and integration simplicity for the user.

One insight that Apple seemed to have more so than others in the microcomputer biz was that third party software was important. I believe it was Steve Jobs who said something related to VisiCalc about the software tail that wags the hardware dog.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Something was nagging me about this Apple 1 keyboard stuff — I didn’t think Apple 1 came with a keyboard. I finally got a chance to check…

it didn’t. The Apple 1 came as a fully assembled circuit board (an innovation for consumer computers at the time), but the consumer still had to provide their own case, keyboard, power supply, and monitor.


bikerbob2005 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

i got a keyboard kit from radio shack back in 1978 on clearance sale table. had a heath kit mobo with an z80. no it never ran. most people here are confusing the OS with a GUI,i had several computers with no OS or GUI and they worked fine.a lot later i had a tandy that had wordstar to use spellchecker had to can the file and then run it through spellchecker then would have to reopen doc to see changes.i also had a computer that had a mouse but was not VGA, FUNAC as so fun to work with. now do not get this oldtimer started on analog machines

G Thompson (profile) says:

you could get a keyboard for a Datapoint 3300 in 1968-9 so NO Apple were not the first to use a keyboard by any shape of the imagination and not even for the newer “personal Computers” that were being created in Backyarfd either.

Keyboards have been around ever since the BINAC used a jerry rigged typewriter to enter data. Though were more prevalent and necessary with the introduction of terminals (hence why one was included with the 3300)

As for Lisa (or the Macintosh XL as it was called to try to mitigate its failure) it was all based on the Xerox Alto (1974) which used smalltalk.

Stating that the LISA was a home machine is a bit strange especially when it was being sold in 81 (it’s release) at a whopping $10,000. The LISA II was a bit less expensive but the major reason for the LISA’s failure was it’s price.

The Xerox Star was a lot better and pure GUI machine and a lot less expensive. But it really wasn’t until 1985 that machines were ever truly cheap enough for the home/SME market and then a major competitor GUI by the name of GEM came along.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: G Thompson on Apr 12th, 2013 @ 10:29pm

The original Macintosh came out in 1984…the Lisa (a corporate engineering flop) was Apple’s first GUI machine…1983….The Macintosh 128k (the original 1984 Mac) cost $2,945 US upon its release and actually was faster than the Lisa. It was the first home based desktop computer capable of viable desktop publishing. Most of our modern word processors as we know them owe their very existence to Mac Write.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Response to: G Thompson on Apr 12th, 2013 @ 10:29pm

Wow you either weren’t around back then or love to copy/paste without actually researching.

Mac Write was NOT the precursor to modern Word processors in any way.. Wordstar would hold more claim to that than any Mac product especially since it was the first truly WYSIWIG system. (under MSDOS not under CP/M though)

In fact to go back earlier the WANG and the AES systems were the first CRT based innovation systems that we know now as Word Processors.

And programs like pfs Write, WordPerfect, MS Word and MultiMate were all before Mac Write… Though Mac write and MS Word were the first true ‘bitmap’ style word processors.. though they Did not make Word processors what they are to day… Wordstar, and AES did!

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Response to: G Thompson on Apr 12th, 2013 @ 10:29pm

He does have a valid point with MacWrite concerning desktop publishing. It was the first truly black on white bit-mapped based word processor capable of visualizing what your work would look like if printed.

This is WordStar:

This is MS-Word for DOS in 1983:

This is MacWrite..which came with MacOS 1.0:

Mac Write allowed users to transfer graphics over from MacPaint for desktop publishing purposes. The Macintosh version of Word 1.0 for the Macintosh came out in January 1985.

The first Word to run on a GUI was Word for Mac, which was released in 1985 (it?s the one in the picture). Word for Windows was released in 1989 with the release of Windows 3.0.


It was not as if Mac Write was the first…but it was the first word processor to allow the user to get a basic visualization of what the page looked like in a bit-mapped GUI environment. Everything else until that point character based.

Beech says:

In the manner of a IP fanboy:

“Either way, it should put to rest Choate’s silly claims.”

HA! Wishful thinking. Little do you realize, Little Mikey, that you have just further proved yourself wrong! You see: evidence that proves something I don’t like is groundless/cherry-picked/irrelevant/inapplicable/non-typical!
So you prove nothing! Conversely however, what about some totally unrelated news story I read that I’m only going to vaguely describe in an attempt to derail any discussion? Why don’t you talk about THAT story? Debate meBLARGaflaRga!

Confirmation bias is a hell of a drug.

HDBoy says:

Microsoft copying

You can try to rewrite history all you want and cast Microsoft’s theft of Apple’s groundbreaking, first operating system as the same sort of fair “copying” that Apple did to Xerox, but you’re being disengenuous. The fact of the matter is that Apple negotiated a deal with Xerox to get access to the PARC lab and the company licensed the use of the operating system interface they saw during their visits. In return for this access and use of the technology, Apple paid Xerox in stock shares that eventually were worth millions.

Microsoft, on the other hand, reached no agreement with Xerox or Apple and made no payments for use of the ideas..

Rather, Gates and crew only had advanced access to Apple’s new graphical user interface to create a new word processor and spred sheet for the software and upcoming new Macintosh computer. Indeed, Microsoft created Word and Excel, but also secretly began developing a copy of the new Macintosh OS — Windows 1.0. Later, when steve Jobs confronted Gates about rumors of the unauthorized engineering effort, Gates denied it and lied.

Bill Gates’ deception and ethical lapse, and Microsoft’s theft of Apple’s Gaphical User Interface are NOT the same as Apple’s use of the Xerox PARC material, and to suggest that it is either naive or dishonest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Microsoft copying


and your point was … look and feel ?
Sheeeesh, not this again.
For the time and effort wasted on this sort of bullshit the industry could have made huge progress furthering the technology rather than holding it back arguing about who has “rights” to looky feely presentation.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Microsoft copying

“Bill Gates’ deception and ethical lapse, and Microsoft’s theft of Apple’s Gaphical User Interface are NOT the same as Apple’s use of the Xerox PARC material, and to suggest that it is either naive or dishonest”

PARC was interesting..but it was not available to the home market as the Mac 128K was. The Mac 128K was the catalyst in that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Microsoft copying

Though I’ll more than frequently acknowledge that Microsoft has often acted in both deceptive and without much in the way of ethics. Just ask the EU.

For all of that though Microsoft steal Apple GUI. Though Jobs certainly would have had no problem with that. Remember that Jobs quotes Picasso in the video with the statement that great artists don’t borrow they steal. Also, remember that the MAC OS we know today came after Jobs pushed Scully out and rewrote it based on Free/OPEN BSD which Softies know better as a Unix. You know, like that Linux thing. Windows 1.0 right up to the current windows still floats on a DOS kernel not a UNIX one.

Back to Jobs and referring to the video again Jobs problem isn’t as much as MS copying, Jobs copied and stole and made no apologies for doing it, but that MS copies ugly. There’s no artistry in MS’s copies. I’d agree there given that Windows is utilitarian, kind of like white office walls and 5 ft cubical paneling. Probably from all that time hanging out with Big Blue. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Microsoft copying

Most people misunderstand the Picasso quote. “Borrowing” in the quote would be the same as merely copying something that is good. However “stealing” refers to taking something you have seen elsewhere and applying it or changing it in such a manner that you effectively “make it your own”.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Microsoft copying

MS never swiped Apple’s first OS though they did base Windows 1.0 through 3.0 on Apple’s GUI which isn’t the same thing. And after the Lotus vs Borland case it’s doubtful that you can protect a “look and feel” which is what a GUI is in many ways any more than you can copyright a recipe for cinnamon toast. Lotus lost that one on the way to the destruction both of themselves and Borland if you recall.

Everyone copies when they’re doing things like this it’s just a matter of how good or bad the copy is. Jobs figured the copy of the GUI MS shipped and continues to ship was and is ugly in comparison with what Apple produces and IMHO he’s right. And it’s for a host of different reasons that I find it hard not to choke on the use of words like ethics and lack of deception and Microsoft in the same sentence or even story.

And next time you plant a garden please try to convince me that you don’t look around and copy the best features of those near you and so on. Apple paid for the access to XEROX PARC material and got a deeper understanding and better feeling for it which has spread through the Apple, BSD and UNIX /Linix world while MS’s is still pedestrian and ugly.

For now MS is still on top but like all things that won’t last forever. It may just seem that way 😉

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Microsoft copying

For now MS is still on top but like all things that won’t last forever. It may just seem that way

It doesn’t even seem that way anymore. That’s why they did the panic move that is Windows 8.

Back in 1991, I predicted the future of Microsoft: that they will follow the same path as their (then) archenemy, IBM. You really do become what you hate. The end result will be that Microsoft will find a niche and remain large and profitable, but will be largely irrelevant to the computer industry. Just like IBM. I’ve yet to see anything that indicates my prediction was wrong.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Microsoft copying

Apple did not just copy Xerox. Apple introduced significant new ideas. Pull down menus. Improved dialog boxes. Perhaps most importantly was automatic repainting of “dirty” parts of the screen — and the engineering innovation QuickDraw Regions that made it possible.

Microsoft just copied Apple. Right down to the GDI developer documentation which was word for word identical to the QuickDraw documentation, with the word QuickDraw replaced everywhere.

Ian Waring (profile) says:

Gates learnt a lot from DEC also

While at Harvard, Gates learnt a lot from source code listings from the DECsystem-10s there.

I was also shown a prerelease version of Windows by Bill Gates himself in May 1983, on the Compaq Plus he was carrying around to vendors at the time. I asked him at the time why the Apple Lisa had one mouse button, Visi-On had three but his mouse had two. He rolled off all the design tradeoffs for 20 minutes or so. Very impressive, knew all the competitors thoroughly.

Opening words whenever he shook hands with any senior exec were “When are you going to drop CP/M?”.

I still agonise on why MS get licensing fees for FAT-32 when it is almost a direct copy of Files-11 ODS-1 and ODS-2, which both were live inside DEC at the time Microsoft were first incorporated (in 1976). Or indeed how they get to play Playground Bully with Android licensees. Microsoft are great at a number if things, but innovating genuiinely new work is not a core competence there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Gates learnt a lot from DEC also

Microsoft believe it or not was great at one point, they actually delivered things that people wanted, they were not so good to a be a partner in business though, on that front Microsoft was ruthless, the strategy was to get as many people on Windows as possible forcing vendors to have to adopt Windows and having to obey Microsoft, that changed when companies successfully broke Microsoft with anti-trust litigation all over the world and so they started to squeeze the other end(users), that didn’t go so well either.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Gates learnt a lot from DEC also

“MS get licensing fees for FAT-32”

It is a result of the toll road mentality. It is a shame this has occurred in an industry which is typically occupied by forward thinking individuals.

btw, do libraries pay a license fee for their use of the dewy decimal system? It is a file system, right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Gates learnt a lot from DEC also

MS doesn’t get licensing fees for reading and writing to all FAT-32 files because open source BSDs and Linux distros don’t pay those fees. As far as I know they aren’t required to because the FAT file system isn’t the core of BSD or Linux file systems.

This is what makes things like the toll roads, patent “protection” and copyright so hard to deal with in the tech sector. That and the look and feel thing went out the window way back in the days when Lotus sued Borland over the look and feel of Borland’s spreadsheet looking too much like 1-2-3 for Lotus’s liking and while they beat each other’s brains out and wasted resources and money MS wandered in and took the “office” market from them both and the tool market away from Borland. Lotus lost that case. Badly. Which is why there has never been a challenge to MS Windows looking and feeling like a bad copy of Apple’s GUI which isn’t the MAC-OS which is built on Open BSD. Keeping in mind that MS and it’s appointed “stalking horses” like SCO has also lost badly in the courts on the issue of Linux copying code from them illegally.

As for the DDS it’s less like a computer file system than a filing system which is more akin to a well designed relational database. And libraries don’t pay licensing fees for it though they do pay specialized staff to maintain it and keep it up to date.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Gates learnt a lot from DEC also

As far as I know they aren’t required to because the FAT file system isn’t the core of BSD or Linux file systems.

Systems built with BSD and Linux have to pay to license Microsoft’s file system because so they can interact with the products from the dominant desktop computing vendors. It’s all about “being compatible” and devices that can be plugged into consumer desktop PCs.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

The key to copying

There is some truth to the myth that big companies could just copy things that are not patented. They actually would if they could.

The problem is that with new products in new markets, the larger companies either don’t understand the market or don’t see enough profit to put forth any serious effort toward copying.

Instead of copying, larger companies tend to try to buy out smaller competitors outright, and it’s such a bonus to gain all those lovely patents with which to wage war.

Anonymous Coward says:

Steve was so proud to be a pirate he even had a pirate flag with crossed bones and everything.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirates_of_Silicon_Valley (1999)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triumph_of_the_Nerds (1996)

ps: No Wally I know the story behind the pirate flag and I know it was not Steve’s idea, was his team, but with the blessing of the management it was allowed, people were proud in those days to be called pirates.

The Real Michael says:

I haven’t watched the documentary yet but I do get the gist of this discussion. Pat Choate’s views are dissonant with what really transpired. In fact he’s got it reversed: had patent protectionism been pursued as rigorously as it is today, there’s an extremely good chance that companies like Apple and Microsoft would’ve been stopped dead in their tracks.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, I can. It would look sort of like what happened when Apple sued Samsung over the shape of their phone, except that it would be against smaller companies without the same financial strength to wage a costly legal battle, so they’d capitulate. It’s a form of legal extortion.

I bet attorneys love ’em.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

For all the bile directed at Gates and Co in this thread, most of it well deserved, remember that Gates and Microsoft opposed the entire idea of software patents insisting copyright was enough warned about the damage they could, and do, do. But now that they’re legal they’ve built up a “defensive” wall of patents as have IBM and others.

Anonymous Coward says:

The point of the system?

Something I don’t understand about this (ongoing) discussion about the effect of patents on Apple and M$:

Why do we care? Laws shouldn’t be trying to pick winners. Laws shouldn’t be saying Apple and Microsoft are good, bad or indifferent.

We like (small j) jobs, we like enhanced technology / innovation and we like increased culture. Whether that comes from a handful of giants or from a larger number of smaller companies is not really the point of the patent system.

Without the current (or recent, or whatever) system, would we not have Windows? Maybe. Would we not have an operating system available to the masses? Prove it.

Would we not have ipods? Maybe. Would we not have portable mp3 players? Prove it. (Because, of course, once disk space and size got small enough / cheap enough, it was such a novel concept…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The point of the system?

“Why do we care? Laws shouldn’t be trying to pick winners”

Law is supposed to be blind, however most admit that she peeks.

We care because the fraud waste and abuse which naturally results from such the twisted fee extorting system saps society of precious resources that could be better spend elsewhere.

Apple and MS are simply examples used to discuss the “IP” induced problems which plague modern society.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: The point of the system?

“Why do we care?”

Simple. Patents cost money to file, and it costs a lot of money to defend against patent lawsuits. Large companies stockpile patents to use against competitors, while patent trolls stockpile patents for things that haven’t been invented yet, in order to attack those who first innovate a successful product. It’s difficult to innovate, expensive to protect the innovations you are making, and you’ll get sued for millions the moment you have a successful product. Small startups have been destroyed by this situation, and that’s just the ones who go ahead anyway, not counting the ones deterred from innovating by the expense of patents.

Defenders of this broken system claim that it’s necessary to have this situation because patents are fundamentally necessary to encourage innovation. Stories like the one above prove that the largest innovators of the last few decades not only innovated without the need for patents, but that patents may actually have made their innovations impossible.

“Would we not have an operating system available to the masses? Prove it.”

Explain how someone can prove a hypothetical negative, and I’ll be happy to.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: The point of the system?

Well, for one thing, most modern graphics cards use the same pixel blending and blitting methods programmed into the Apple II…Steve Wozniak made it so that the video output did not bog down the processing power of the system.

“Explain how someone can prove a hypothetical negative, and I’ll be happy to.”

The patent system was much more involved then than it is today. Patent approvals took much longer in the 1970’s and were held in question until it was absolutely sure the inventor would not abuse their patent. That was when the USPTO was actually funded well enough to hire in licensed lawyers/clerks to make sure that things checked out.

Whether you buy patents for offense or defense, you are not doing the one thing that has led us to where we are today technologically. The patent system was put in place to ensure public trust that products that said public handled would actually work and be buildable. Today, it has gone in reverse as the vaguest of drawings and descriptions get approved.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The point of the system?

I’m not sure what half of what you wrote has to do with what I was saying, especially the first paragraph. You also didn’t explain how a hypothetical negative can be proven.

Do you have anything address in the point I was explaining (Apple & MS innovated without the need for patents, so the claim that patents are required for tech innovation is false), or did your “must defend Apple whenever they’re mentioned” reflex muscle kick in again?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The point of the system?

The simple matter of it all is that Apple had to design boards using industry standard components that were not really patentable due to their need in the market. The Macintosh is a great example of cost cutting from design by using larger capacity SIMM socket RAM in order to get the 128KB of RAM it had. The patents in need were in design of how the specific compenents added to the design of a system’s functionality. So while the components are individually not patentable, putting them together on a circuit board in a certain way to make them functional is. Needless to say it was very important to patent anything you made as a whole. You also had to use reference patents.

Today, the negative aspect is that nobody is really innovating bevause everyone is gungho about suing each other and screwing each other over as a business model.

Apple was the one company that brought the bit-mapped GUI to the home market in the Macintosh. Without the patents on their designs the GUI would not be here today.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The point of the system?

Apple was the one company that brought the bit-mapped GUI to the home market in the Macintosh.

Not true unless you qualify it a lot more. I have a antique Cromemco CP/M system sitting in storage that predates the Macintosh by several years. It has bit-mapped graphics and many applications that use that graphics capability to provide a GUI.

Without the patents on their designs the GUI would not be here today.

This is certainly not true. GUIs encompassing the main components of modern ones (multiple, overlapping windows, use of a pointing device and cursor, etc.) date from the 50s. If Apple didn’t bring this to consumer equipment, someone else absolutely would have.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The point of the system?

“Explain how someone can prove a hypothetical negative, and I’ll be happy to.”

Kind of my point. The whole purpose of the articles Mike is pointing to follow a “logic” that a stronger IP system (A) led to the rise of companies such as Apple and M$ (B). Effectively, for the argument to be meaningful, they rely not on A caused B, but on NOT(A) would cause NOT(B).

The thesis in the article is that:
1) We had A, now we have NOT(A)
2) Had we had NOT(A), we would have had NOT(B)
3) B is good and NOT(B) would have been bad

Mike has regularly disputed points one and two. My contention is that even if we accept points one and two, I think point 3 is not where we should look for the end point. I contend that we need an additional factor that B led to us having the range of technologies and innovations that the IP system is supposed to encourage (C).

So we are being asked by the author of the article to believe that A led to B led to C and that NOT(A) would have caused NOT(B) would have caused NOT(C).

I contend that we don’t care about B or NOT(B). I contend that we are interested in C or NOT(C). From there, I’m asserting that NOT(B) would not have caused NOT(C) (and given the role of both Apple and M$ as gatekeepers, I’d occasionally contend that B hampers an optimal C), which then means that arguing about the relationship between A and B misses the point of the system.

So, to sum up, arguing the merits of the IP system by claiming that it gives us microsoft and apple is only relevant if you are also asserting that microsoft and apple are (more or less) the only ways of getting the technologies that we have. Breaking the second link means that the original article is irrelevant

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The point of the system?

You’re missing the point. The point is not whether or not we would now have the same as Apple and MS have given us. The tech landscape would undoubtedly have looked very different, and possibly behind the current curve, but that’s not the argument being made.

The point is that they got there without the need for patents. This is contradictory to the “companies need patents to innovate” talking point that’s usually bandied around in defence of the current, broken, skewed patent landscape. That’s the whole point – in response to the attempts to claim that patents are absolutely necessary, history can be pointed to in order to show that this is not the case. Expanding this point to anything further gets us into very muddy waters and misses the argument being made.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: The point of the system?

Trying to “predict” the past is fraught with all the dangers of trying to predict the future. That said there were no software patents when Apple, Microsoft, Compaq, Dell, Borland, Lotus, Radio Shack, and countless others jumped on Apple’s platform or IBM’s mostly by people who were too young to know that such things weren’t doable and certainly not as a revolution. Yet the revolution came.
Another young man at CERN invented a subset of a markup language gave us HTML and tore the text based things off the Internet which one day allowed us to discover IRC, newsgroups, and so much else. Would we have ipods and other gadgets? Yup. Would we have smart phones which have virtually replaced the gadgets and we can make calls besides! All less expensively than we’d have dreamed imaginable. I feel no ne4ed to prove it. I’ve watched it happen over the past 38 years something I feel blessed to have witnessed and to witness it happen for a longer period of time. Somewhere out there still are young men and women who don’t know they can’t start another communications and computation revolution. Maybe some of us older folks too, cussing under our breath that we don’t care but this something just HAS to work. We may not be able to have it all but if what we have now is very close to all compared to, say, 1969 when none of it existed.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal. And we have, you know, always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

Yeah but the idea is to one up others with your “copy”…not completely copy the business model of your rivals….

Best Example is a toy pet wooden duck. Someone could claim that idea of the wooden duck toy only if they added something that was unique. So the next innovator comes along and adds wheels and a string so you can walk your duck. Next company comes along and one ups that and makes the cams of the wheels oval shaped to give the duck a waddle….the next company after that adds svelte flippers to go onto the wheels….
That is how patents are supposed to work. You are supposed to improve upon design in design patents and that is what Steve Jobs was referring to.

Google bought out Android Inc. to get you Android…Apple developed and improved upon concepts already held in place from OSX and NeXT Step (the latter of which was something Steve Jobs had worked on during his Hiatus from Apple).

So before you mince words next time, make sure you look at the companies that bought out things and called it innovation…Google’s innovation in advertising was spending just over a billion dollars to buy out web advertising firms and poaching their employees into Google.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Your duck example is a classic case of building on previous work, rather than doing something new. Therefore each step would have to to license all the previous steps. This is how patents end up blocking innovation, by holding a patent on a base idea, all developments of that idea require licenses from the holder of the base idea, if they will make them available. If not a patent on the new bit can be used to stop it being imnplemented by the holder of the base idea.
Given the massive number of patents now in existence in many fields, I am waiting for some Innovator to find that licensing will cost 101% of his sales price. (this would make production impossible).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Which is why some patents become industry standard patents….which require only reference thereto for various components. You need the wooden duck but even if it looks the same, it functions differently. The wooden duck would essentially be referenced because if the design of the body of the duck with wheels.

That process allows people to freely innovate and improve upon new technologies rather than fully buying them out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

So Motorola did it and how much did it cost them to do so?

I don’t know by without looking I can honestly say that it is in the 8 figure range, that range puts every medium or less sized company out of that place in fact creating a high barrier to entry into any market.

It also threatens open projects that depend on being able to open the knowledge and produce something.

Further it creates fertile grounds for trolls, that go after everybody not just big companies like that one company legal threats saying restaurants, clubs, hotels and etc have to pay up for using WiFi.

How long you guess until someone tries to make it illegal to use any tech not licensed by somebody and start calling others thieves and passing laws criminalizing the sharing of information about how to build something?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Oh yes the rounded corners argument. The added wheel ads functionality not known to the wooden toy duck’s original design. So…it is as a whole, patentable if attached the the damn duck and attached to a specific cam angle to make said damned duck in fact waddle….that’s how it is supposed to work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:


Not how it works in practice.

In practice the maker of said waddling duck would be brought in front of a judge to explain exactly how it differs from other prior art and patents and have to spend thousands if not millions of dollars doing so, it is so uncertain how things could go that even big players find it safe to just settle and pay up which increase cost of operations, with the number of patents growing and nobody caring about the quality of those, you can also expect to see a lot more litigation going forward, instead of one you may end up with a system where every new product has to deal with 2 or more entities trying to squeeze money out of you.

Further not the whole duck would be patentable at the discretion of the judge he can decide that only part of the claims are valid, rejecting others see Samsung vs Apple.

How it was supposed to work?

Since it is a monopoly we are talking about and it has very clear negative side effects it should be granted only in very few instances, for really truly innovative concepts, not upgrades like putting wheels on a wooden duck, no that doesn’t count, now a wobbling magnetic bearing on a wooden duck, now that I would very much like to see it done.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Problem is this. Apple poached former PARC workers who worked on Star because apparently they wanted to be paid for the works they created that Xerox was claiming as their own. If it not for Apple’s original Macintosh, we’d really not be discussing this in a threaded way using bit mapped GUI’s… think we’d be doing threads in purely text.


Re: Re: Re:4 Designs were 20 years ahead of the hardware.

Xerox’s own work didn’t come out of nowhere. There were tech domos going back to the 60s highlighting ideas one might associate with Apple.

On the one hand Xerox was funding the research. On the other hand, it wasn’t doing anything with it. Another Xerox would have come along. Apple wasn’t the only user facing company interested in GUIs. Tech was catching up to what people had been dreaming up and a GUIs were inevitable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Designs were 20 years ahead of the hardware.

Apple brought the GUI into the home consumer market. Might not have been the first, but when you compare Mac System 1.0 to other GUI’s at the time, you’ll see that it really did make vast inprovements. The equipment on the 1984 Macintosh was meant as a system that had the same processor and GUI like system as the business machine of Lisa, but cutting cost in RAM and reducing amount of RAM chips (using 256 byte SIMM chips suadered onto the board rather than 64 Byte chips made a world of difference).

The point is that GUI’s of the time ran on expensive systems…the Macintosh changed that and made it more consumer friendly.

The reason why the Macintosh was so successful in 1984 was that it was seen as more marketable. It was far cheaper in price for the features it had when you compared to to other systems at the time who harbored similar features. The whole point was to make a cost effective Lisa that the average consumer could afford. That made it a VERY cost effective business machine and a home computer as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

and that is exactly the reason why ‘copying’ is so frowned on now! the big industries and companies would not be where they are now if they had been prevented from copying or sued because they copied. it is the same old story, ‘dont do what i do, do what i tell you’! this is so true throughout so many things, be it movies, music, software, medicines whatever. none of these industries would be where they are now had they been unable to use the ideas of others. the entertainment industries are a prime example of how to achieve what you want and then prevent anyone else from doing anything that intrudes on their ‘stuff’. had they not intruded on others stuff, they would not have had to move to California to keep going. one of the main problem companies atm is Monsanto. it is trying to force all farmers to use only it’s seeds, fining them if they dont but then putting patents on seeds they have no rights to. sound familiar? before long, the world is going to be starving whilst surrounded by a land full of food!

staff (user link) says:

more dissembling by Masnick

Yours are the dissemblings of huge multinational thieves and their paid puppets -some in Congress, the White House and elsewhere in the federal government. They have already damaged the US patent system so that property rights are teetering on lawlessness. Simply put, their intent is to legalize theft -to twist and weaken the patent system so it can only be used by them and no one else. Then they can steal at will and destroy their small competitors AND WITH THEM THE JOBS THEY WOULD HAVE CREATED. Meanwhile, the huge multinationals ship more and more US jobs overseas.

Do you know how to make a Stradivarius violin? Neither does anyone else. Why? There was no protection for creations in his day so he like everyone else protected their creations by keeping them secret. Civilization has lost countless creations and discoveries over the ages for the same reason. Think we should get rid of patents? Think again…or just think.

Most important for many is what the patent system does for the US economy. Our founders: Jefferson, Franklin, Madison and others felt so strongly about the rights of inventors that they included inventors rights to their creations and discoveries in the Constitution. They understood the trade off. Inventors are given a limited monopoly and in turn society gets the benefits of their inventions (telephone, computer, airplane, automobile, lighting, etc) into perpetuity and the jobs the commercialization of those inventions bring. For 200 years the patent system has not only fueled the US economy, but the world?s. If we weaken the patent system we force inventors underground like Stradivarius and in turn weaken our economy and job creation. Worse yet, we destroy the American dream. The ability to prosper from our ingenuity for the benefit of our children and communities. Who knows who the next Alexander Graham Bell will be. It could be your son or daughter. It could be you. To kill or weaken the patent system is to kill their futures.

For the truth, please see http://www.truereform.piausa.org/

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: more dissembling by Masnick

It seems to me that Stratdivarious would not have patented how to make his violin as that would have allowed others to make the exact same thing after 20 years. He would have kept it a trade secret, and ended up with the same situation as now. On the other hand, if he patented it today it would be “a method to combine wood with a string, cat gut, metal wire, or other material that can be vibrated with a bow in order to make a musical note” therefore preventing the invention of a Les Paul guitar–because a lawyer would argue a guitar is just a large violin that is played without the bow.

Anon. says:

Accidental Empires Book republished by Bob Cringelt for free:

“Bob Cringely” just recently republished (for free) the book “Accidental Empires” that the Pirates documentary was based on here:


Well worth a read.
I didn’t see anything in it about Apple selling shares to Xerox for access to PARC, but google search seems to confirm it.

Xerox Alto was the original Gui machine, never commercialized.

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