Omidyar and Patents


I've written here, here, here, and here about patent philanthropy. Now, courtesy of Gifthub, I have learned that the Omidyar Network, which is about to shut down its online community, omidyar.net, has filed for a patent for the point system it used on the site. So here is just a list of the thoughts that come to mind:

  • Noting the comments on GiftHub, I never liked the point system on o.net, it was too complicated for its purpose, so who cares;
  • I'm sure this will make all those disgruntled souls over on o.net really happy to have invested their time in building community - when actually they were just unwitting beta testers;
  • NOW do you believe me that the sectors have blurred beyond meaning - a commercial enterprise launches a free online community for nonprofit do-gooders who turn out to be beta testing a system that will be patented so as to collect royalties on its future use?
  • Wait a minute, if the sectors have blurred this much, maybe the system is being patented, so it can be protected, royalties collected and then donated to a public trust that will fund the advancement of the Creative Commons and Open Source coding (OK, OK, stop laughing...)
  • The value of something is in the eyes of the beholder. Different beholders see different value(s) - to community members at o.net it was in the community. To the owners of the network, it seems the value was in the code.
  • NOW do you believe me that philanthropists should be thinking about IP?
  • I'm glad some philanthropists agree with me that IP matters.

3 comments:

David Geilhufe said...

"maybe the system is being patented, so it can be protected, royalties collected and then donated to a public trust that will fund the advancement of the Creative Commons and Open Source coding (OK, OK, stop laughing...)"

I love your quotes Lucy.

That most of the philanthropic world doesn't realize they can create public goods through open source/ CC licensing is one amazing angle.

Then "the new breed" of philanthropy's (Omidyar) first thought is to extract economic value from their efforts for social good.

The bleeding hearts need to find their Web 2.0 analog... using the patent system to create public goods is a pretty good Web 2.0 bleeding heart thing to do.

Soren said...

This is surprising, particularly since they open sourced the code for Onet sometime back. But I actually do not have much an issue with this. When you consider all the trouble ebay had (and still has I think) with the guy who owned the Buy it Now patent and the on-going legal battles, my guess is Pierre was just protecting himself "if the system did work." Since it did not (at least through Onet), I am not sure what this means.

Though I could never see him charging people for this idea, as long as Pierre keeps his promise to give away all (or almost all) of his money in his lifetime, I am happy with him making as much as he can to give away.

Unfortunately, his online community will not be helping him learn how best to do that. And I think in the early days of Onet, he hoped they would be able to do so.

nmw said...

Yes, IP matters -- that's why people are supposed to learn English in school.

So what?

;D nmw