Friday, February 04, 2005

More reasons to worry about intellectual property

I've been talking for a long time about the influence of changing intellectual property laws on philanthropy. I've noted the rise in patents being filed for philanthropic tools, such as the Donor Managed Investment, a new financial form for giving a gift and retaining the ability to manage it.

Kintera has filed papers to patent its "Friends Asking Friends" technology This service allows nonprofits to unite websites and email lists to help raise money. Now, the technology may be new, but there is nothing older in philanthropy than friends asking friends. Every fundraiser worth her salt knows the first rule of raising money is to ask, ask, ask.

So, when Kintera gets its patent, which it expects early in 2005, how pervasively will it enforce it? Just licensing the software? Or will it go looking for revenue everytime a nonprofit tries to raise money or awareness of a cause by providing a quick link to "email your friends"? How about every time a Board of Directors develops a list of likely contributors and asks the Board members to make the asks?

If the technology that underpinned the hyperlink had been patented and license revenue sought out, the World Wide Web would have never grown the way it has. We should be similarly concerned about how far we go in patenting technology that underpins this most basic element of philanthropy.

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