Dan Paluska

Information should be free/the anti-patent, anti-ownership manifesto.

this is old and rambling and you need not read it.

version 2008-12-04

Certainly many have said it before, Stallman/raymond/lessig/street artists/processing/linux/wikipedia/filesharing and others big and small. I formally add my voice. I’m in the process of working out my arguments. Please send me your comments. Please poke holes.

What are these alternate business and culture models (opensource/freeculture/gpl/cc) going on out there right now? Who is making these things happen? What are the forces involved? What are the current successes? What are a couple stories we can tell from both sides? Who’s winning by doing this new way or the old way? Who is loosing? If we believe in problem solving, can we improve our current public understanding of this issue? How is this story best told? We are making the assumption that this is a progression that leads to a benefit for all. Are we right? What is right?

There are several areas of “ownership” which are used for consolidation. Types of ownership include software patents, copyright material, patents of physical goods and also ownership of money. Money is also just an idea. It is the idea of value. You can’t actually eat money. But the belief of worth makes it spendable. I think the software and copyright arguments have been covered pretty well by others so i will concentrate on patents of physical goods for now.

( I would like to comment on others but that will be phase II for me.)

[(optional?) my background is in robotics and i’ve spent time in the government grant military industrial complex/research university funding models and briefly in some other corporate hardware places(specifically gm and bose). i have my name on two patents(i think) from work in the biomechatronics group at the media lab. for a startup i licensed a patent from the mit tlo. ]

the summary of my view on patents: i’m fully against all patents on hardware or software.

but patents are the engine of the innovation!! they protect the little guy against the large corporations! they make it possible for companies to spend large amounts of research dollars on important solutions. how could business go forward without patents?

Well, it’s actually pretty easy and plenty of people are already doing it successfully. Ask any kid in art school today and they will talk about sharing their work openly. any of them who learn to program also learn to share their programs with others. many young and old computer programmers and web surfers and musicians and scientists have gone completely open source and continued to have successful careers. in the past we have tended to simplify the act of invention into the idea of a lone genius or delta force commandos or manhattan project group. this was great to solve certain problems in the past but we’re bigger than this now. we are missing the opportunity for a massive amount of parallel processing.

the most important things for us to develop are tools and processes, not products. this also means that in order for these things to be successful they have to be open. if you truly care about the solution and not your ownership, this is the only way forward. that seems ridiculous. but i need to eat! i need to pay rent, to go out with friends. i need to protect my market share! how can i do this without patents?

What are some current projects implementing or supporting some version of this model?

wikipedia, gnu, linux, sourceforge, processing, arduino, monome,  openwetlab, opencourseware, openframeworks, (*expand this list dramatically)

though there are many software and education and social network projects, there are not many physical product categories and for this argument, i’d like to focus on the physical products and market sectors.

let’s talk for a second about the auto industry. how many things in your car are covered by a patent? how much time do companies spend on working around other patents or protecting their own? does this make any difference to your evaluation of their car? probably not actually. it’s an overall feeling and the overall product quality. toyota hasn’t outperformed GM because of the patent system, they’ve outperformed them and been more profitable by focusing on the refinement of the process as they create the product. all the car companies and consumers would benefit from the abolition of patents.

so let me theorize a bit as well. i believe there is a mentality of a patent chaser. this happens to both individuals and large corporations. these are good people, good problem solvers who start of in pursuit of a bold solution to a problem they think is important. i think this is greatand most people start with noble intention. i wouldn’t ever want this to go away. but there is something i want to go away. there is a loop that is created that makes people believe they want to collect patents so they own the idea, this leads to some payoff and beachside sunset ride in the end.

it ceases to be a motivation for problem solving and starts to be a motivation for ownership. the product is not the reward. the process is.

but who will invest money on important problems? the fact is, if they are important, they will get solved. maybe it will be a truer/flatter market? this might actually be a capitalism that does solve problems. the information is free to all. there is no tragedy of the commons for information. having another person know it does not spoil it.

so the correct process will yield the greater end product for the consumer and also build the best long term stability for a company. and i am talking about physical products. so do i have any great examples of where this is happening? i have two small ones from the art world.

arduino -(add description/successes/limitations) http://www.arduino.cc/

monome -(add description/successes/limitations)

<object width=”400″ height=”225″><param name=”allowfullscreen” value=”true” /><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always” /><param name=”movie” value=”http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2411779&amp;server=vimeo.com&amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portrait=0&amp;color=&amp;fullscreen=1&#8243; /><embed src=”http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2411779&amp;server=vimeo.com&amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portrait=0&amp;color=&amp;fullscreen=1&#8243; type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowfullscreen=”true” allowscriptaccess=”always” width=”400″ height=”225″></embed></object><br /><a href=”http://vimeo.com/2411779″>SevenUp – New features</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/mtn”>makingthenoise</a&gt; on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.

are there bigger examples? i’m sure there are people out there making this happen on a bigger scale. I will be working to fill this in with examples.

do most big companies end up failing (*) because they become married to their past? do they become focused on the protection of property rather than the creation of solutions? how do they fall? from the old steel giants in pittsburgh to computer giants of rt128 to the first round of the silicon valley web bubble to the financial and automotive crises of today?

Here is some Fortune 500 data (1955-2008) that i’m going to take a look at… The Black Swan got me thinking about this “You’ll pass the same people on the way down as you did on the way up…”

bubbles are created by the problems of ownership, wealth consolidation, extremistan, power law dynamics, preferential attachment, rogue waves, etc. they are the creators of the superrich. so lets be clear, i’m in for a flattening. i don’t think aybody is that good. but no -isms please. this is the future. whatever came before, we can do better. lets not short circuit our discussion with rhetoric. obama seems to be pretty better at this then most politicians. i’m excited to see how his process plays out.

bubbles are a classic effect of extremistan (re: The Black Swan) and given what we know about the tragedy of the commons, how do we make things like wikipedia that seem to be mostly safe from this? (re: Here Comes Everybody).

Who are you out there right now who is thinking of making this change to their business model? It’s a change i’m trying to formalize for myself and expect to be implementing as fully as possible.  it’s an iterative process.

1 Comment so far
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Hi Dan, interesting idea , got me thinking, can you make a mathematical model of a person who goes open source versus one who doesn’t and then figure out what is the break even. I have a hunch that a person who patents may start reeling in cash earlier then open source guys. Usually open source candidates may have a larger pool of money or their technology may not need large infrastructure (like machine shops, materials, electronic components). In that regards I believe software can be made open source but the technologies that use hardware might still be open to patenting…what do you think ?


Comment by Bhargav Gajjar

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