Subject: Re: Is open source software innovative?
From: Bernard Lang <>
Date: Fri, 5 Jan 2001 02:12:39 +0100

  Thanks a lots to all for the input.  I have not yet had time to sort
it out, but all the answers I received, from several lists (except one
that was supposed to be confidential for some time longer) are
available as a standard mailbox at :    50k

or      206k

md5 is :  5b8c0e21c665174a9d22aed06b1ac6bc  innovfree
  not that it matters much  :-)

This will provide material to reply to people denying the innovative
contributions of free software.  Not that I had any doubt.

On Thu, Jan 04, 2001 at 04:22:05PM -0700, Chris Rasch wrote:
> I've been doing some research for a paper, and I came across an article
> that has some bearing 
> on the issue of whether open source software is innovative:
> "As many psychologists and historians of technology have shown,
> innovation does not proceed through major breakthroughs by specific
> individuals, but rather through the collaboration of different people
> who, through small and cumulative improvements, yield novel and useful
> artifacts over time (Basalla, 1988). All of patent law, on the other
> hand, is based on the assumption that an invention is a discrete and
> novel entity that can be assigned to the individual who is determined by
> the courts to be its legitimate creator. The associations of an
> invention with other existing or past artifacts are therefore obscured.
> Despite its philosophical foundation, however, the patent system cannot
> entirely obscure the true nature of technological change. As I have
> already mentioned, virtually every new patent infringes in some way on
> other patents. Furthermore, most patented innovation are typically very
> minor improvements. As the economist F.M. Scherer (1987: 124) has noted:
>  As the bleary-eyed reviewer of some 15,000 patent abstracts in
> connection with research? I was struck by how narrowly incremental
> (adaptive?) most "inventions" are.  Even an anonymous author writing in
> a brochure of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (1994: 8) had to
> admit that 90% of all patented inventions are minor improvements on
> existing patented devices." 

This seem to be more a denial of the innovative contributions of the
patents system in general, than asserting that free software is

  However, by granting more freedom for incremental innovation, free
software should be more innovative than proprietary software.  This
goes in the direction of the work of economists Bessen and Maskin.
Sequential innovation, patents, and imitation,

Happy new year ...  or whatever you'd like to celebrate now.


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