“Good artists copy, great artists steal” . . . Steve Jobs

We are witnessing case after case of patent and copyright infridgements and while a part of us understands the fairness of copyrights, we all need to understand how the "fairness doctrine" has played out over the years in the PC industry.

IBM PC vs Apple II

As Apple Cofounder Steve Jobs' Apple II computer was introduced in 1977,  businesses were grabbing it in hopes of cutting their mainframe computing costs down. IBM also wanted a big piece of the new personal computer industry market share, and countered with their own IBM PC in 1981.  How IBM got their operating system for it, MS-DOS, required some wheeling and dealing, and using non-IBM parts, service, and sales was totally contrary to anything they had ever done. 

IBM and Microsoft

IBM needed an operating system for their PC, so they went to the biggest PC software company at the time, Microsoft, assuming they were in the operating system business, when in fact Microsoft only did programming language work. Bill Gates told IBM they did not have an operating system, but referred them to another major player in the PC industry, Gary Kildall, who had created the most popular operating system up to that point, CPM. Unfortunately for IBM, Kildall had legal issues with their proposed deal and declined. IBM, not accustomed to being snubbed, went back to Gates for help.  

Microsoft and MS-DOS

Gates agreed and began looking for an operating system. He didn't have to look very far. Across town, in Seattle, a small and up-and-coming company, Seattle Computer Products, had a programmer on staff named Tim Patterson, who had created a program that Microsoft felt could do the job. The only problem was the program was not Patterson's, but his company's property. Microsoft told Seattle Computer Products  they would like to buy the program for $50,000. They agreed; Microsoft cleaned the program up a bit and called it MS-DOS. The rest is history. MS-DOS became the operating system for millions of PCs worldwide. An interesting note is Microsoft did not make any royalties from it, only the contract price they settled on with IBM for providing MS-DOS. Where Microsoft made royalties was through their sale of MS-DOS to all of the other PC clone makers in the industry. 

Xerox PARC

As the Apple II computer in 1977 and the IBM PC in 1981  had established the new personal computer industry, a new player was working on the sidelines,   Xerox. Although copiers were Xerox's bread and butter,  their newly established Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) located in the Silicon Valley,  was developing exciting new technologies for the personal computer. Among them were three technologies used today: 1)  a graphical user interface, which we all use today in the form of a mouse with Windows and Apple computers, 2) object-oriented programming, which has enabled powerful applications to be developed over the years, and 3)Ethernet, a technology for networking computers together.  What is the most amazing thing is that Xerox invited Steve Jobs and Apple engineers to a demonstration of these technologies, which basically "gave away the kitchen sink" as PARC researcher, Adele Richardson put it.

Xerox PARC Research and Apple MacIntosh

Steve Jobs was so impressed by what PARC computer scientists had done, he hired more engineers and began work on a new computer which would be called the MacIntosh, incorporating a  graphical user interface,  the Mac's most notable feature, and literally redefining the way computer users interact with their computers.  After the excitement of the Mac's release subsided, sales begin to drop quite rapidly. Apple knew they needed what is known as "killer apps"; an application so important to users, that it alone would justify the Mac's purchase.  Steve Jobs business savvy enabled him to cut a deal with Adobe and purchased 20% share of it, while developing True Type fonts and other program design features of the Mac conducive for desktop publishing. As a result, sales for the Mac began to increase and user response was so incredible, it actually spawned a whole new niche, desktop publishing.

The PC industry is what it is today through copying, sometimes downright stealing, but it has also produced incredible innovation, which has successfully fueled the industry in numbers and sales; one of the most profitable in the world today. Steve Jobs once said, "Good artists copy, great artists steal." I believe Apple needs to be more forgiving with other companies who make similar looking products, and the companies who copy the design need to be innovative with new features, so it's a win-win not just for the consumer and the manufacturer, but for the PC industry as well.

For more information, including the famous Apple vs Samsung lawsuit, you can view it here

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