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Copying vs. Innovating

[Cross-posted from Mises Blog: Copying vs. Innovating]

A wonderful Wall Street Journal profile of Blaise Agüera y Arcas, the architect behind the most advanced features of Bing Maps, explains how he is working toward features that allow users to upload high-resolution images inside of buildings to match with seamless maps to create integrated virtual realities – a dramatic step beyond Google Maps. Google has inspired him of course but he knows that he must do better. “You can always be inspired, but the moment you start copying, you guarantee you will never get ahead,” he said.

There is a telling point here that contributes to the IP debate. Unless he could copy – emulate the leaders in the field – the project would not get off the ground at all. That freedom has to be there. But in order to compete, copying is never enough. A pure copy rarely gets a foothold in a market dominated an an efficient original. There must also be improvement – innovation. So there we have it. Progress requires three freedoms: to cooperate with others, to emulate others, and to compete with others.

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