Business Law & Compliance

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How to steal ideas – Steve Jobs style

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In a passage from T.S. Eliot’s “The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism”, it said the world was rife with parallel quotations. Britain’s George Chapman borrowed from Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger – who wrote two tales of Hercules – and Shakespeare copied from French essayist Michel de Montaigne.

But while Eliot’s intent was to suggest every great artist/writer/leader is influenced by what has been done before them, we somehow got hooked on the words: “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.”

That can’t be right, can it? In this case, it’s not a call for you to perform a bank heist and steal the assets businesses have locked in a vault somewhere, but to take something that’s already of value and make it yours. Painter Pablo Picasso was a great believer of this concept. We know this because Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told us so in one of his most famous quotes: “Picasso had a saying – ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’ – and Apple has always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

If you’re a believer of Picasso’s methodology, here are three big examples you could learn from.

(1) Apple

It’s already been established that Apple is in the game of making something else its own, and there can be no better example than that of the iPod.

While it took some time, Apple finally admitted that it wasn’t the original creator of the iPod. In fact, it was one Kane Kramer, who built the device in 1979. Formerly called the IXI, the device stored 3.5 minutes of music on a chip. And the sketches he had made look very similar to the iPod we all know and love today.

Apparently he took out a worldwide patent and created a company to develop his ideas, but in 1988 he was unable to raise sufficient finance to renew the patents once more. It meant his technology had become public property and Apple gave it a new home. Not only that, the company drastically increased the amount of songs the device could store. It had taken the IXI, and improved it.

This was pointed out perfectly in a comic by Scoot Meyer’s where it said Jobs didn’t make the first computer, just the first computer you could use, as well as the first mp3 player worth buying, the first smart phone that worked and the first tablet people actually wanted. “He’s the kid who copies off of your test, then gets a better grade than you,” the comic points out.


(2) Facebook

That Facebook started life as a ripped-off site is no secret. Founder Mark Zuckerberg was sued quite a few times and the movie, based on how the platform was created, spared us no details on that front.

It was said that Zuckerberg based the platform off of ConnectU, a website launched by three of his Harvard classmates. Of course, he was sued by them in federal court in 2007. But that’s not the only classmate of Zuckerberg’s to seek revenge.

Aaron Greenspan suggested he created the original college networking system both parties had based their sites on. Some six months before Facebook went live, and eight months before ConnectU’s launch, Greenspan established a website called houseSYSTEM. It was used by Harvard students for numerous online college-related tasks. Furthermore, when he took Zuckerberg to court he unveiled an email which he circulate to Harvard students that described the platform as “the Face Book.”

What many may not know, however, is that Friendster was arguably the first site enabling friends to share content abs events online – and it brandished quite a few patents in the social networking space, hemming the growth of Facebook. The firm did what every company would do in its case: buy all of Friendster’s patents.

Take exams and receive an official certificate for your Facebook knowledge


(3) Lego

No, not Lego! Sadly, it’s the truth. The Lego Group started life by creating wooden toys in 1916  think wooden duck on wheels type of toys.

But after WWII, plastic became all the craze. When the company bough a plastic mould to tap into the trend, the salesman showed the firm an example of the plastic building blocks being created by Hilary Page.

Does that sounds familiar? Known as the Kiddicraft block, one would immediately mistake it as a Lego brick. The company refined the product idea – adding the central stud we now know so well – and started making bricks without ever consulting Page about his patented product.

Many have suggested, however, that Page’s patent didn’t stretch as far as Denmark, which would have made it perfectly legal for Lego to make use of his idea.

Image: Shutterstock

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