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Surprising Science

In Praise of Intellectual Property Theft

Apple’s patent war rages on against Samsung and Google but in what sense has something been stolen from Apple? Timothy Lee says strict patent laws harm the common good. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Apple has alleged that Samsung’s tablet hardware and Google’s Android software violate various patents it holds and is seeking injunctions against the sales of related devices in court. It is not the first time Apple has alleged broad copyright violations. Two decades ago, it accused Microsoft of stealing ‘the look and feel’ of Mac O.S.’s graphical user interface. While Apple lost its suit against Google, Samsung’s tablet has already been taken off the shelves in Germany.

What’s the Big Idea?

Do we want a patent system that grants monopolies over basic concepts? Imagine if Apple had won its ‘look and feel’ lawsuit against Microsoft. Technology writer Timothy Lee asks: “Would anyone seriously contend that we’d be better off today if Apple (or Xerox, which pioneered some of the key concepts) had held a monopoly on basic user interface concepts like menus, buttons, and scroll bars for all of the 1980s and 1990s?” Or if Apple has succeeded against Google’s Android, would not competition have been greatly hurt? 


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