Technology Theft

Apparently in the Steve Jobs bio there’s discussion about how he plans on destroying Android because he thought Google stole his idea. Well, yea, a phone operating system is genius, it’s just difficult to get a critical mass for a given operating system. There’s the problem of lock-in and network effects, which impact the likelihood of a given person adopting a new technology. That’s also why Google followed Apple’s lead with creating the Android Market. It’s also why Apple is suing every single major Android phone manufacturer. However, Jobs shouldn’t have been that upset there have been a lot of dead cell phone operating systems like Palm’s, many mobile windows and most recently the beautiful MeeGoo from Nokia.

Cell phones aren’t the only place where this sort of “theft” happens. Typically, it’s more considered technological borrowing by taking from one technology type and applying it to another. This happens when some technological limit is hit on a technology. This technological theft basically allows the engineer/designer to overcome some inherent limitation in a technology. An example of this was the effort that allowed proper planes to compete with jets for an extended period of time. They use super chargers and similar technology to allow the plane to fly at heights and speeds they shouldn’t normally be able to fly at.

However, this borrowing can lead to major legal issues. Which is why it’s fairly common to see licensing agreements between major firms that involve thousands of seemingly unrelated patents. This is so they can avoid any sort of legal issues if they have to use a technology the other company owns.

Other types of theft are really common, such as in software. Look at how much Facebook has taken from both twitter and google+.

What should we do about technology theft? Well, we need to deal with the patent problem first. However if we address that issue I think that technology theft is one of the best things that can happen. It’s a way that drives improvements of subtechnologies that make the larger technologies more efficient. It’s a way that technology evolves through selection process.

On a side note, I get to see my wife tomorrow, so I’m probably not going to be blogging much for the next week or so.

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