Tech Dominance and the Policeman at the Elbow

20 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2019 Last revised: 5 Jul 2019

See all articles by Tim Wu

Tim Wu

Columbia University - Law School

Date Written: February 26, 2019


One school of thought takes much of law and the legal system as essentially irrelevant to the process of technological evolution. This view takes as axiomatic that the rate technological change is always accelerating, that any firm or institution dependent on a given technology is therefore doomed to a rapid obsolescence. Law, at best, risks interfering with a natural progression toward a better technological future, hindering “the march of civilization.”

This paper discusses the historical role of antitrust investigation in changing the course of technological development by focusing on the example of the IBM litigation (1969 - 1984). While widely derided and seen as a failure, this essay challenges the conventional wisdom and suggests, with the benefit of decades of hindsight, that the IBM lawsuit and trial, despite never reaching a verdict, actually catalyzed numerous transformational developments key to the growth and innovation of the computing industries.

Suggested Citation

Wu, Tim, Tech Dominance and the Policeman at the Elbow (February 26, 2019). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-623, Available at SSRN: or

Tim Wu (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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