by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
computers, culture, innovation, invention, remix

apple, xerox

Everything Is A Remix: The Invention Edition

from the innovation-is-a-process dept

We've discussed in the past Kirby Ferguson's excellent project Everything is a Remix, which tries to highlight how creativity is almost always derived from elsewhere. We wrote about the first two videos, which covered copyright issues, starting with music and then movies. His latest may be the best yet, as it focuses on inventions, in large part by retelling the Apple story, concerning how it built off the work at Xerox PARC (which in turn built off work at SRC and other places). We actually just talked about this story a few weeks ago, and this video definitely adds to that conversation:
The key point, which critics will undoubtedly skip or gloss over, is that he's not just saying that copying is good. He's saying that copying is one part of the very important process of innovation. Copying is a component, but the important part is then taking that copy and doing more with it.
At issue is that some people believe that it's better to do everything from scratch. But that's incredibly wasteful, inefficient and too often, limiting. Being able to build on the works of others, to transform them and combine them with other good ideas, that's where innovation comes from. We've pointed this out many times before. The iPhone was a wonderful innovation, but almost all of its technologies could be found elsewhere. It's just that Apple put them together in a brilliant and user-friendly package. The video shows that the same thing was true of the original Macintosh, which took ideas from elsewhere and put them together in a useful manner. And, as you look back through history you find that it's true of all sorts of revolutionary and transformative advances in progress, such as the Gutenberg printing press or Henry Ford's Model-T mass production setup:

Innovation is almost always about remixing. It's about taking ideas that are already out there, and transforming them and adding to them. And yet, our social and legal policies seem to deny this. They seem to be focused on the myth of "flash of genius," -- of an invention that is brand new and unique. And so we create a system like the patent system, which doesn't recognize the importance and value of building on the ideas of others in order to continue that process of innovation. And that's a shame, because it's holding back progress in dangerous ways. It's certainly not stopping progress, but what we lose from progress not going as fast as it could is tremendous.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2011 @ 6:46pm

    The reference to "flash of genius" as being one of the policy bases for patent law is inaccurate. Perhaps Justice William O. Douglas saw it as such, but his view was expressly rejected in the codification of patent law known as the Patent Act of 1952.

    If anything, patent law has historically been associated with incremental improvements, as was the case with Edison and his improvement to filaments and methods for making such filaments. It is in recognition of this that Section 103 plays what is likely the most important role of the provisions contained in the current patent laws, with Section 112 following close behind.

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