Intellectual property is being stolen from the USA

Donald Trump, the controversial president of America has ordered an investigation in to China’s behavior when it comes to America’s Intellectual Property.

The reasons Trump is so inflates aren’t hard to see. China’s growth is incredible. The country regularly posting GDP increases of between a 7 and 9% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR.)

In some ways, China’s growth is built on emulation of others’ ideas. It’s much easier, of course, to experience increases like this, if you’re copying the hard earned work of others. Pushing the envelope to build a new product like the iPhone in California is hard. Many try and fail. Copying the one successful result, and mass producing the best products of the year is relatively easy but has the same effect. China’s iPhone equivalents cost around 20% the price of an Apple device and do much the same thing. Chinese manufacturers like Oppo made up 8 of the top 22 spots in phone hardware sales last year.

It’s not just an international furor, however. Even American companies, including Apple and Samsung among others, are famously suing each other in almost never ending, circular litigation.

However, Mr. Trump might like to take a moment to think. There occasions where America has undertaken the same approach to China’s and used Intellectual Property that was invented elsewhere. In fact, much of America’s technology empire is built on concepts and technology invented in the UK.

Electric power and computers were invented in the UK

Starting at the beginning, the concept of the computer was invented by an Englishman,  Charles Babbage. Babbage developed and secured funding from the UK Treasury for the development of a mechanical (steam powered!) computer. It acted in much the same way modern laptops do with a facility to process data (stored in a separate place) and ‘IF/THEN’ interpretations and decision trees a possibility.

Clearly, Babbage would have benefitted from the ability to actualize his concept in less unwieldy equipment. Just as well then that an English person, Michael Faraday, invented the electric engine. to Faraday contributed the concept of a steady electrical current (EMF) flowing in a single direction – again, clearly something required for a computer.

Much of the money made in the future will come from algorithms & AI

The algorithm, a defined procedure, used to solve a problem, the basis for all computer code in the world, was invented by Alan Turing. Part of his journey and approach is laid down in the Hollywood film ‘The Imitation Game.’

Not only that, Turing is also widely acknowledged to have determined not just the relatively simple (by today’s standards) idea of computer science but also the concept of Artificial Intelligence. In fact, every year, there is a competition to see if a computer can fool someone in to believing they are a person – a game called ‘The Turing Test.’

Given the context of this discussion, it is worth pointing out that Turing was treated extremely badly by the UK government as a result of matters that were entirely his and not the state’s business.

Finally, the concept of the World Wide Web was first posited by an Englishman, Tim Bernards-Lee.

Summing up

Times are different now to the period I’ve discussed here. One notable evolution is that the inventors who came up with these things (the computer, the electric motor, algorithms) didn’t have a fiduciary responsibility to share holders. This might have had something to do with the reasons these inventions were contributed to the good of mankind, rather than squirreled away and used as the heart of a company in the same way, for example, Google’s PageRank technology was. Tim Bernards-Lee, it has to be said, may well have had an understanding of the commercial importance of the Internet and he did still give it away.

That said, Trump is whining about IP leakage like he’s the first to experience it, and he’s not. His complaint is that the companies operating in the USA are not making as much money as they should be able to as a result of this IP leakage. He’s describing an economic problem first and foremost. He might also like to remember that it was a Scotsman, Adam Smith, who invented the study of economics and also that he (Trump) is even using the English language to formulate and express his complaints.