Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Think Like Engineers; Speak Like Lawyers

With the acceleration of not-selling-so-why-not releases of formerly proprietary products into the open source ecosystems, one begins to wonder where the manpower will come from to sustain the development of these entries at a rate that keeps them competitive? As John Cowan has told me in the past, unmaintained code is dead code.

Are the recipients of these gifts vetting them with respect to hidden IP encumbrances? I don't suggest that companies such as IBM with massive patent portfolios are signing away their new currency to the open source community, but given the concurrent stampede to acquire patents, I'm not so sure anyone knows what the IP status of these contributions are.

Meanwhile, the IP keiretsu I've been predicting are forming fast and furious in the forms of cross-licensing agreements and the revised IP policies of the standards, specifications and open source product consortia. As a current member of the board of one of these (the Web3D Consortium), I think they are the best refuge for the small and middle tier players in markets where the high costs of IP defense can't be sustained by individual players.

Clear participation agreements for members are the best way to proceed. This is important because anyone can create a consortium, proclaim its specifications to be standards, then use that wedge in combination with patents to hold weaker competitor's heads under water until they drown.

This topic should become a required course in universities that expect graduates to become innovators and entrepeneurs in their fields. The sad fact of the industry today is we have to think like engineers and speak like lawyers. The technical writers have understood this for years.

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