“A fairy tale?” you ask. Well, yes. Because every once in a while, even though the work has piled up, you feel energized and spirited about something enough during breakfast on a Sunday morning that ideas just well up and the words spring onto the page. And if you have a couple of spritely, cheerful teenage daughters who occasionally read stories, narratives intersect and you just have a little fun with things. And that’s what happened here. So, a fairy tale … of a sort. And here goes.
The Birth of an Idea, The Growth of an Industry
Once upon a time, not too terribly long ago, after a period in history called the Industrial Age, there dawned a new age. It was called the Information Age.
Little bits of information got stored on, well, little chips. Not potato chips, mind you. These were special chips, made of silicon. They were able to store digital information, in the form of tiny electrical charges.
And because of a new special law pronounced by a Grand Master of Technical Wizardry, it was deemed that these chips would keep getting smaller and more powerful. The more chips you had, the more you could do. And a certain few imaginative people figured out how to load up these chips in ways that were pretty gosh-darned interesting, creating new products (called hardware) that ran programs (called software). And this gave those people great power.
And so it came to pass that several huge technology companies were founded by these imaginative people. And these technology companies created lots of hardware and software stuff using chips. We’ll call them jointly the Behemoth-Techs.
The B-Techs were proud of their accomplishments. They touted the amazing benefits of their software-driven innovations. They believed that life on Earth surely would not be so rich without them, for they were mighty, and they were big, and they made lots of digital toys.
And lo! the people so enjoyed the toys that they came to expect new models and new features regularly. New toys came out almost every new moon! There were lines around the block! The people were hooked! But because of this—just like that famous emperor in the fairy tale who was so big and so powerful that his viziers couldn’t let him know that he wasn’t wearing any clothes—the B-Techs thought they deserved the never-ending worship of the people.
So quickly had the B-Techs arisen from the ashes of the Industrial Age, so powerful did they presume themselves, that they had not bothered to spend any time protecting their toys through any then-known legal means. They certainly did not bother with such time-honored ways of protecting inventions with irritating little things like patents. (Or copyrights. Or trademarks.) Instead, the B-Techs focused on keeping customers loyal to them by constantly updating and improving their toys.
And, lo! People did love them, because the smaller and more powerful the toys became, the less people had to worry about mundane tasks, such as getting directions, visiting a friend, or preparing dinner. So much was done instantaneously by the new toys. It was like magic!
But the B-Techs didn’t yet know that a challenge was coming. A challenge they’d created for themselves in overlooking certain protections they should have sought. So the tale took an interesting turn, but you’ll have to hold on for Part II.
Do fairy tales have installments, you ask? Is that fair? Hmm… I think it is. Here’s Part II: The Path of Innovation Leads to Competition.