Subject: Re: Is free software innovative ?
Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2000 13:48:28 -0800
Tue, 12 Dec 2000 13:48:28 -0800
on Tue, Dec 12, 2000 at 11:37:12AM -0500, Jonathan S. Shapiro ( wrote:
> > Hi,
> > 
> >    a common argument that I see against free software (and used as a
> > justification to ignore free software when discussing software
> > patenting) is that free software is not innovative.
> > 
> >    Innovative means : containing stuff that could have been patented,
> > according to a rather strict application of the novel and inventive rule.
> > (not the USPTO garbage criteria)
> Bernard:
> I don't want to engage on the question you asked, because I believe that
> it is fundamentally misframed. For the answer to make any sense, you
> must also ask how much *proprietary* software results in innovation and
> compare the two. The answer closely approximates "none" in both types of
> software. Innovation occurs in both models, but innovation is by
> definition an outlier event. Also, please take note that the patent
> system does not actually perform the strict test that you suggest, so if
> we are trying to understand the impact of European patent legislation on
> open source we must ask "how much free software is patentable" as
> opposed to "how much free software is innovative?" On the "how much is
> patentable" question I'ld suggest that since roughly none of the patents
> issued in the U.S. or Europe have any merit at all the answer should be
> about the same in both cases.
> If we have to live with patents, it would be a big help if filing a
> patent later determined to be non-innovative had the side effect that
> you had to pay the costs incurred by the party who caused it to be
> thrown out. This would be a big disincentive to spurious patents.

OT:  This, like frivilous lawsuit reforms, might have the effect of
further favoring the deep-pockets party.

> That said, there is another way to approach the question that *does*
> look at fundamental innovation, which is to ask "Where is disruptive
> change more likely to happen?" The answer is open source. The reason
> follows.
> Disruptive change involves upheaval to an industry, and therefore
> threatens established revenue streams. Startup companies can do them
> because they have no revenue streams to threaten. Established companies,
> as a rule, typically will not undertake disruptive efforts unless they
> can do so as part of a migration of an entire industry. "Innovation
> fixing" is what standards bodies are really about from the perspective
> of a large company.

I agree strongly with the several good points Jon raises in his post,
particularly in the appropriateness of the metric and criteria Bernard
suggests.  I'm not sure that Jon's use of disruptive change is
necessarily accurate either.  And I can't remember where I was reading
that economics doesn't have an appropriate measure for complexity

I'd recommend for further reading  The Innovator's Dilemma , Clayton M.
Christensen, Harper Business,  1997, 2000.  Christensen follows several
disruptive (and nondisruptive) technological innovations in the computer
hard drive, mechanical excavator, and small-smelter steel industries.
The lessons are relevant to the current discussion.

Karsten M. Self <>
 Evangelist, Zelerate, Inc.            
  What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?      There is no K5 cabal

["application/pgp-signature" not shown]