In the past year or so it has seemed that the cool thing all the big tech powerhouses are doing is suing each other over copyright infringement. Apple sues Microsoft, Samsung sues Apple, Google sues Samsung, and Microsoft sues your seven-year old niece. I’ve had some mixed feelings about this. Recently I watched a TED talk (I love TED talks) by Johanna Blakley about the intellectual property rights, or rather the lack there of, in the fashion industry. I have posted it here for you intellectual enjoyment, it also will help with reading the rest of this post.
If you didn’t invest the fifteen minutes in this video, here is a synopsis: in the fashion industry there is effectively no intellectual property rights because clothes were deemed to be too utilitarian to be patented. This allows anybody to completely copy any other person’s design. One might be concerned that this would allow everyone to produce the same goods, but, what designers have noticed is that the knock offs aren’t as good as the originals. This is both because it is difficult to copy anything absolutely perfectly, but also because those who are attempting to copy are seeking to produce the goods for a lower price, which typically means cheaper fabrics. Additionally, Johanna Blakley notes that the ability to copy any design forces designers to move faster, constantly seeking to create a new trend. In the end, Johanna Blakley brings the discussion of intellectual property rights in to to other industries.
I would like to focus these ideas on the technology industry. Do I believe that companies should be rewarded for the creations they make? Yes, of course. Do I believe to know what the intellectual property laws of the tech industry should be? No, the issue is complex. But, Johanna Blakley’s presentation did help me put together some scattered reasons I had about why I find these lawsuits so ridiculous.
One concept bouncing in my mind is akin the idea that clothes are utilitarian. I remember there being a lawsuit filed by Apple over the pinch to zoom creation. Of course, anyone who has a smart phone knows how helpful this is; it just feels right. While Apple deserves to profit from this creation, I believe that disallowing other companies from using it would hurt the industry and society so significantly that we can not allow it to be patented. In essence, it is too utilitarian to be used exclusively by one company. In fact, the entire industry is utilitarian. All of the tech inventions that come to mind are created to allow people to complete tasks, whether that be contacting a friend, writing a document, or distributing a photo, more easily. Do we really want this restricted by intellectual property laws?
The second concept that this video helped me consider is the inability for companies to copy one another perfectly. For example, consider the simulated inertia that causes a page to continue scrolling for a moment after moving down. All of the major players offer this, but it still feels different on every device. So long as companies can not copy the code verbatim, the replication will never be exactly the same as the original creation. I believe that this gives the inventors ample ability to develop a ‘feel’ for their products that is unique and attracts customers.
Finally, the third and final thought this video helped me vocalize is why I find all the lawsuits to be pathetic; the big tech players shouldn’t feel a need to sue. Fashion designers can accept the lack of intellectual property laws as a challenge to continually seek out the next big thing. In the tech industry writing lines of code on a computer can drastically change the entire market. A successful tech company should have enough confidence both in the magnificence of the technology they are creating for the future and the quality of technology they have created in the past to not be concerned with other companies trying to recreate their ideas. I see preoccupying your company with lawsuits to be an admission to the lack of either one or both of these.