Myth: Copyright Theft, Apple Stole GUI from Xerox PARC Alto

Friday, March 5, 2010
By OP Editor

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So, Apple stole the now ubiquitous graphical user interface (GUI) from Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)? Some people think so. But is it truth or fiction?

Copyright Theft Myth, Apple Stole GUI from Xerox PARC Alto

Myth: Apple Stole GUI from Xerox PARC Alto computer

Whenever Apple tries to protect its intellectual property (this week Apple sued HTC for patent infringement of patented iPhone technology), there will be few people who parrot some variation of this myth: “Apple stole the GUI from PARC / Xerox.”

The “Apple stole the GUI” myths contain these components:

  • Theft of intellectual property by Apple
  • Implied plagiarism by Apple of the code and overall functionality of Xerox PARC GUI for the Macintosh

Is it a case of “Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal?”

Did Apple Use Xerox PARC GUI Intellectual Property Without Permission?

Apple CEO Steve Jobs saw Xerox PARC product, such as the GUI, either on a tour or at a trade show. He then used the PARC GUI implementation without permission, to create the Apple Lisa and the original Mac OS / Macintosh GUI.

Apple obtained permission ahead of the Xerox PARC visit. In addition, Apple provided compensation in exchange for the various Xerox PARC ideas such as the GUI.

The Motley Fool, a financial publication of investment news and provider of investment advisory services, says this about the real story of Apple and PARC:

“Xerox could have owned the PC revolution, but instead it sat on the technology for years. Then, in exchange for the opportunity to invest in a hot new pre-IPO start-up called “Apple,” the Xerox PARC commandos were forced — under protest — to give Apple’s engineers a tour and a demonstration of their work. The result was the Apple Macintosh, which Microsoft later copied to create Windows.” [1]

Xerox Received Financial Compensation from Apple

The compensation for the Xerox PARC technology sharing deal with Apple was in the form of one million dollars of pre-IPO Apple stock. The rationale: if Apple does well, Xerox will benefit from Apple’s success. The compensation is not bad for showing some prototypes that Xerox didn’t know what to do with.

“November: Steve Jobs and software engineer Bill Atkinson visit the Xerox PARC lab in Palo Alto, California. More Apple employees will visit a month later.” [2]

“Jobs and several Apple employees including Jef Raskin visited Xerox PARC in December 1979 to see the Xerox Alto. Xerox granted Apple engineers three days of access to the PARC facilities in return for the option to buy 100,000 shares of Apple at the pre-IPO price of $10 a share.” [3]

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Tags: Analysis, Apple, Legal, Myths, Prototype, Technology

12 Responses to “Myth: Copyright Theft, Apple Stole GUI from Xerox PARC Alto”

  1. Dave52

    “Did Apple Stole Xerox PARC GUI Intellectual Property Without Permission?”

    1. By definition, all stealing is without permission, else it wouldn’t be stealing.

    2. “Did Apple Stole”: Grammar checker, anyone?

  2. prak

    Dude, this is a great little bit of de-bunking, but your atrocious composition and grammar mean that I can’t send anyone here. They won’t believe anything written so poorly could be credible!

    Do you need some assistance working out the kinks in your writing?

  3. bazjapan

    So can we say Apple copied the ideas already in place at xerox then going on to later refine them? Seems like a normal process to me. Why are we apple users so brainwashed into thinking that Jobs et al were/are somehow above all. That they are God like and free of any wrong doing. That their ideas are exclusive and if they are not their own, they really should be credited with them anyway. In my opinion, Apple have become a fairly ruthless bunch that support open standards when it suits and generally speak in ‘double speak’. That said they do make cool stuff, but so do other companies! Thanks

  4. Monarky

    Oh…. I see! You’ve got a hidden agenda to keep the truth off this site! Very Lame and you’ll lose with your mis-information in the end!!!

    • Let’s see. References include New York Times, Motley fool. So sure, information from those sites are completely wrong. Not.

      Or perhaps someone cannot handle the truth?

  5. brrry

    copying with or without consent doesn’t change anything.
    still not apples invention.

  6. brrry

    Did Apple steal the idea?
    Did Apple copy the idea?
    Yes, Apple Paid for the rights to use it but it does not mean they invented it.

    • Apple did invent various aspects of the modern GUI, as explained in the article such as “drag and drop”.

      One thing that Apple does well is bringing abstract concepts and technology to the masses.


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