Back in the commercial world, however, there is little room for the creative remix. Earlier this week, Google unveiled a light-hearted new interface to its search engine modelled on one feature of Apple's OS X. It wasn't much — just a row of icons which increased in size when you hovered a mouse over a selection, much as the Dock does on a Macintosh. It came with a little billet doux bigging up OS X; the whole thing was trailed on Google's developer blog and clearly intended not as a major undertaking, more as a piece of fun that encouraged a bit of thought.
As of today, it's gone. Nobody's saying why, but it has all the signs of lawyer snottiness. Apple is after a patent for making things bigger, and is presumably being its usual hawkish self at batting away anything that might cause corporate distress.
It is possible to wring a few drops of speculation out of this minor example of disproportionate response. Is Apple planning its own search service, based on the OS X interface metaphors? Is it about to start selling other software, perhaps running under Windows or as some form of Web service, that will introduce these ideas to new platforms? Or is it about to get into bed with Google to launch something with bits or all of the above ideas?
Perhaps it's just being Apple. It's certainly shameless in staking out what it considers its intellectual property — the latest example being a concerted effort to wrest itunes.co.uk from the man who registered it four years ago. Many of the problems experienced by our poor beleaguered giant IT companies could be so easily solved if this sort of retrospective rights grab was ensconced in IP law — why should little people have control of valuable ideas just because they thought of them first? If a large company is prepared to invest heavily in legal procedures, surely it has the right to see a reasonable return on this.
But this is empty chatter. Surely, nobody could deliberately attempt to get complete control over long-established, legally impeccable areas of free commercial enterprise...