Can’t find Jim Whitehurst’s post on software patents? Hack it.

Speaking of software patents, it appears that there’s an interesting article up on opensource.com about software patents and 20th century vs. 21st century business models written by RedHat’s president and CEO, Jim Whitehurst.

Except I can’t show it to you. But not for the usual reasons…

Update: I’ve found the full text and included it at the bottom of this post.

The reason I can’t show it to you is because that page on opensource.com is giving us the following error:

Access denied
You are not authorized to access this page.

Hmmph!

I initially found the link to the post while browsing the #swpat tag on Identi.ca. After encountering the Access denied barrier I became even more curious about the article. Was it not yet ready for publication? Was there something factually wrong in it? Did it cause an incident and have to be removed?

The answer, of course, might be something much simpler and less racy. I mean, someone might have frobbed the wrong knob in the blog software and unintentionally made the post private.

So many possible explanations, so little time.

So I went out and googled around, using what little information I did have, namely the title of the blog post as embedded in the url. And I found on Facebook what appears to be a chunk of the post:

Stuck in a 20th century business model? Hack it.

by JWhitehurst

The business world is changing at a rapid pace. Sooner or later, any 21st century business leader will face a wall built by 20th century business models. For open source software, that wall was software patent law.

Software patents aren’t used to protect the inventor; they are often used to halt innovation. If you come up with an idea that’s similar to mine, I can prevent you from bringing that idea to fruition–even if I opt out of doing anything useful with my idea. Even if your idea rose up independent of mine.

The author of the post, DiscoveringTheObvious, is still trying to track down the full text of Whitehurst’s blog post, so if you have any leads or have access to the full text, please pass it along to one of us.

All in all the post sounds very interesting. I hope that someone will release it to us in its entirety very soon so that we can hear what RedHat’s CEO has to say.

–Q

Update (2010-03-28): I poked around and found the full text of the article in Google’s cache. It’s CC-BY-SA, so I’m posting it in its entirety below:


Stuck in a 20th century business model? Hack it.

Posted 17 Mar 2010 by Jim Whitehurst (Red Hat)

The business world is changing at a rapid pace. Sooner or later, any 21st century business leader will face a wall built by 20th century business models. For open source software, that wall was software patent law.

Software patents aren’t used to protect the inventor; they are often used to halt innovation. If you come up with an idea that’s similar to mine, I can prevent you from bringing that idea to fruition–even if I opt out of doing anything useful with my idea. Even if your idea rose up independent of mine.

It’s clear that what drives the economics of the 21st century will be fundamentally different than what drove the economics of the 20th century. In the 20th century, our economics were built around physical assets. Those assets were optimized by ownership and scarcity.

Our legal system is based around a model of property and property ownership. Property ownership may be essential for stability in an emerging economy, but can be a hindrance when so much of the capital of the 21st century is intellectual.

Actually, software began with a fundamental problem: The marginal cost to copy it was close to zero. In terms of building business models around software, that wasn’t a feature; it was a bug. You can charge for it once, but then people can copy it for free. The answer was to lock it down–to apply an older legal system of copyright laws to source code.

A few decades later, we went one step further and applied a patent system to software and locked down the ideas, too.

Certainly Microsoft was key player in applying this model to software. What’s interesting is that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation will only fund research into AIDS now if the researchers agree to fully open their results and allow the be used or built on by anyone else. Even Gates understands the power of collaboration and what it can do.

The problem is that locking up information fundamentally suboptimizes the value of that information.

If we don’t find a way to build business model innovations in this new world of ideas, we’ll sub-optimize value as a society. We need to unlock the power of participation.

That’s not to say we need to give things away for the sake of giving them away–we do it to create value. Information is fundamentally more valuable when it’s shared and others can build upon it.

Innovation is a collaborative, stair-building process. Sir Isaac Newton famously wrote, “If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We produce the greatest innovations when build on each others’ ideas. (Even Sir Isaac repurposed his observation from a 12th century axiom.)

When someone locks down a segment of this information process, by protecting not the expression of an idea but the idea itself from being remixed or built upon, innovation suffers. Rather than building to greater heights of innovation, construction effectively grinds to a halt.

So when the open source software community found certain proprietary software companies abusing the 20th century model of patents, they did what any self-respecting coder would do. They hacked the system.

A number of companies supportive of open source worked together to buy up lots of software patents. They pooled these patents together into the Open Invention Network, building a set of “defensive” patents that would be exercised in the event of legal attack by proprietary software companies. They are helping to protect Linux from ongoing legal battles by using the 20th century patent system in an innovative way.

Likewise, when it became obvious that the copyright system would allow people to “lock up” their changes to open source code, the community decided to hack the system. Using the legal framework of copyright law, they turned it on its head and created “copyleft”–in particular, the GNU General Public License (GPL). Now, open source coders could free their work by applying the GPL to it, which would require any further contributions to be released under the same license.

We’ve seen this same principle at work outside the open source software world, in the Sand Hill Road venture capital community. In fact, I would argue that one of the reasons the US has been so particularly successful in fostering technology startups is because we have a much better system of allocating capital to new ideas.

In the past when people with innovative business ideas needed funds to bring their ideas to market, the banks and traditional capital markets often locked them out. The capital markets had developed to allocate massive amounts of capital to companies who need it to build infrastructure like railroads or other large efforts. Few technology startups need capital in that way. So the venture capital community formed–a group that looks at ideas and people’s track records over time and tries to allocate a minimal amount of capital to help good ideas move forward.

Venture capital hacked the traditional capital system and stepped up to provide capital to innovators. Without this hack, many of our 21st century businesses would not exist as we know them today.

What’s clear is that just because we have to live in a system today doesn’t mean we have to be held back by it. When you’re facing what seems like an insurmountable 20th century barrier to innovation, take a good look at the framework. Then hack it.

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