Mar 13 2012 by Brad

Parker: Open Source and For-Profit Companies

On the heels of Yahoo suing Facebook for patent infringement followed by Tim Armstrong at AOL saying “hey Wall Street – look at me – I’ve got great patents also“, Andrew Parker (Spark) wrote a post that brought me out of my “intellectual property depression” titled Open Source and For-Profit Companies.

I’ve been thinking about advancing innovation in the software industry since I was in a PhD program at MIT Sloan School in the 1980’s studying under Eric von Hippel. Eric is one of the best thinkers I’ve ever encountered around this topic and Andrew’s post – which articulates a trend of for-profit companies open sourcing core pieces of their products – is powerful support of many of Eric’s theories.

Andrew’s money quote is:

“But, the most important part of Dan’s observation is that open sourcing the product inside a business is now becoming normal, and that’s wonderful.  Dan seems to be slightly pessimistic about this new world of corporate-controlled open source projects (I take that hint from his desire to rename this phenomenon), but it’s 10X better than having 5 companies all building the same product independently of each other in a closed manner, like what we saw in the column-store DBMS market over the past decade (Vertica, and companions).”

The construct of “intellectual property” – and the government’s right to grant an exclusive license to companies (e.g. a patent) as a way of “promoting innovation” has completely broken down in the software industry. Interestingly, this is happening at the same time that “being open with source code instead of protecting it through trade secret” is also occurring and both accelerating innovation as well as enhancing value in many new companies.

We are in a very complicated place in the evolution of the software and Internet industry. I hope we don’t fuck it all up. Thanks Andrew for weighing in with a clear example of something that is very positive for the ecosystem.

Oh – and if you want a dose of sarcasm beautifully written, check out Mark Cuban’s argument that he hopes Yahoo Crushes Facebook in its Patent Suit. His money quote:

“This is what patents are for, right ? To protect companies with original IP from smarter, faster, aggressive companies who catch the imagination of consumers and advertisers. What else could patents be for ?”

Mark’s serious comments are worth reading carefully.

“Seriously, there are industries where patents are used fairly to protect intellectual property. The technology industry is not one of them.

Change is needed. However, its not going to come from our government. The lobbyists have taken over. One of the symptoms of the illness patents have caused the technology industry is the explosion of lobbyists pushing the agenda of big patent portfolio holders. They are not going to let our lawmakers give an inch.

Rather than originating in Congress, its going to take a consumer uprising to cause change. What better way to create a consumer uprising than to financially cripple and possibly put out of business the largest social network on the planet ?”