During the 1980’s, several tech companies duked it out in court over the first operating systems for personal computers. People alive at the time probably remember Apple’s computers, Lisa and Macintosh, and how they were among the first operating systems utilizing a visual display.
Apple had successfully built upon Xerox’s computer, the Xerox Star, developing graphical user interfaces for operating systems. To develop the operating system, Apple relied on Microsoft to help develop several familiar applications, such as Word and Excel.
In the late 1980’s, Apple filed a lawsuit against Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, alleging that aspects of its operating system had been copied. Specifically, Apple claimed Microsoft had stolen the design and appearance of its graphical user interface. With allegations of copyright infringement, a six-year long battle between the Microsoft and Apple had begun.
At first, the court sided with Apple, agreeing that Microsoft Windows 2.03 had the “look and feel” of its operating system. However, the court ultimately ruled Apple did not have intellectual rights to graphical user interfaces.
The legal stalemate continued for several years, finally ending in 1994. Three years later, Apple and Microsoft once again became partners.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was later quoted as saying, “Apple saw itself as a hardware company; in order to protect our hardware profits, we didn’t license our operating system”. The “look and feel” argument was not strong enough to hold water in court. By not licensing its operating system, Microsoft was able to dominate the market, and the rest is history.
A dramatization of this conflict can be viewed in the cult-classic movie, The Pirates of Silicon Valley.
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