In the various debates we have on intellectual property, we often hear people insisting that Google's dominance is based on intellectual property -- even though there's very little evidence to support this at all. The people who make this argument are guilty of the same mistake made in studies that count all things covered by intellectual property laws as if they only exist because
of those laws. Entertainment industry lobbyists, like The Copyright Alliance, love to tout that "$1.52 trillion of the nation's GDP" comes from intellectual property. But that's both misleading and wrong. The number itself is exaggerated, but it also gives credit to intellectual property for anything
that touches IP. For example, when we dug into the methodology
, we saw that the study counts things that clearly were not because of IP law: such as furniture and jewelry. Are the Copyright Alliance and its entertainment backers really trying to suggest that without copyright law we would have no furniture or jewelry?
Similarly, Google often gets lumped into these discussions, with people insisting that its position in the market is due to copyright and patents. Google does, in fact, have a bunch of patents -- but I watch the patent app filings and patent grants on a bunch of different companies each week, and Google tends to file significantly fewer patents than other comparable companies. Furthermore, I don't know of a single case where Google even hinted at
or threatened another company with a patent infringement suit (if there are any examples, please let me know). It appears that Google has focused very much on just using patents for defensive purposes, since it is regularly sued by others for infringement.
Matt Asay, over at News.com, has now highlighted an even stronger example of how Google is showing that it's not relying on intellectual property, but on execution, for its business position. The company recently open sourced its Closure tools
, which it uses to build its web services (disclosure: I'm good friends with one of the folks involved in this project, and yes, he reads Techdirt regularly). As Asay puts it:
In many ways, Google is giving away the recipe to those that would like to build a Google clone.
The problem? Google is so much more than software.
In fact, one of the primary reasons that Google can write and open-source so much software is that it isn't a software company. Not even remotely. I could have every line of Google's software, both open source and proprietary, and I couldn't hope to compete with Google.
Google is what Google does with the software, and not the software itself.
It's the execution
, not the idea. It's the service
, not the code.
In fact, this sort of activity confuses the hell out of companies that do rely on intellectual property. Again, Asay makes this clear:
Google and Red Hat have moved beyond software. Software enables their operations, but software doesn't define such operations. Google, for its part, is open sourcing Microsoft, one line of code at a time, and Microsoft hasn't a clue as to how to respond, because it only knows the old world: competition through better IP.
And that -- right there -- is the key point we keep trying to make around here. You don't need to rely on intellectual property. And, if you do, you are opening yourself up wide to competition that doesn't rely on IP and innovates in a way that simply cuts your legs out from under you. Yet... we'll still hear stories for years about how all of Google's billions are because of its intellectual property, even as it gives away more and more of it each and every day.