Could open source have built Silicon Valley?

In Silicon Valley, innovation is the fertilizer that makes the crops grow. With open source, software is more like topsoil, and those who nurture that soil believe they will prosper longer than those who just throw fertilizer on it.

The failure of OSCON to make a splash in San Jose (expect to see it back in Portland next year) is leading to some general soul-searching which results in this question.

Could we have built Silicon Valley in an open source world?

In other words, to what extent is the wealth of technology a result of legally-sanctioned monopoly as opposed to open competition?

That's what patents and copyright are, legally-sanctioned monopoly.

Let's quote again from Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, enumerating the powers of the Congress:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Another term for an exclusive right is a monopoly, and it was with the term monopoly that this power was discussed by the Founders. It's not intellectual property. It's an exclusive right to an idea, a monopoly over its use.

But technology has always demanded more than what the Founders granted.

The Microsoft EULA is a direct descendant of IBM contracts from the 1950s, in which buyers gave sellers control over what they were buying in perpetuity. Long before the subject of software patents came up, IBM was fighting against leaks of knowledge about how it did things, and against reverse engineering of its inventions.

Without this power over its customers, could IBM have existed? Could Microsoft have existed?

Open source is really just a different type of contract, one that transfers power from the sellers to the buyers of technology. It places a time limit on those monopoly rents innovators depend upon, one that is earlier than what is offered by copyright, by patent, by other software contracts.

In Silicon Valley, innovation is the fertilizer that makes the crops grow. With open source, software is more like topsoil, and those who nurture that soil believe they will prosper longer than those who just throw fertilizer on it.

Invention is the plant corporations harvest for their profit. Software is the environment on which everyone's survival depends.

OSCON, I think, is better off in Portland.

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