Software Monopolies and Open Source

 “And so they decided – because they could – to write their own world!”

Danese Cooper, board member of the Open Source Initiative, gives a short introduction about the relationship between software companies, software patents and the concept of Open Source.

  • Date of recording: Fri, 2005-01-21
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00:00 Right, so there will be opportunistic companies, whose - actually this has existed for a while - there was a company when I first started working, called Wang. They made word processing machines. They were very proprietary. They had lot of patents. Wang doesn’t really exist any more, except as a bunch of lawyers, that sit in a room somewhere and write cease’n desist letters, because they own all these patents. And that’s been going on since at least – Wang died at the late 80’s.

This is another problem with the patent system: that monopoly is just too long. There shouldn’t be a business, that’s … that shouldn’t be possible. You know, the limited monopoly, that the patents system grants you, is supposed to be a reward for the R&D you did; not an opportunity to – you know – create highway robbery scenes. … So, … one of the things I told the OpenOffice-Community last summer, and … I believe very much, is, …
00:59 first of all there are a lot of countries in the world, where OpenOffice is being adopted, that don’t actually recognize patent / intellectual property rules as interpreted by the U.S, say. And, that is maybe a good thing, because it’s harder and harder to stamp out so-called bad actors, when they have safe harbours that are not legislatable, where is harder to bring someone to justice because, because they are out, say in India, China, working.

…This is one of the questions that Sun asks itself before it open sources, something like “what about the intellectual property, what about the ‘lectual property?” Increasingly though, the big lawyers at Sun are starting to understand this switch to the new open source model. 01:54 and I’m hearing – you know – when I first started at Sun I got ‘lot of criticism for the ideas that I had, about how things should be opened and what the outcomes would be. And, that people that feel that things should be owned very tightly kept saying ‘this woman should be run out of this company […]’

My bosses got about weekly requests to have me fired. And some of those same people, that were so upset, are coming to me now and saying: “We starting to understand what you were talking about back than and here is our idea” and we’re hearing very forward thinking ideas on licensing, on intellectual property and how they handle all that stuff. Sun’s never used its patent portfolio except as a defense against other patents portfolio. So, I think it’s gonna be interesting to watch. Jonathan Schwartz recently famously came out as in favor of intellectual property as an investment that Sun is making for its share-holders. And, I think we still very much believe that, but at the same time he said: “However I believe that the system needs to be reformed, in the following ways…” And I don’t think you’re gonna see a statement like that out of IBM or any other of the big … Microsoft, any time soon.

03:12 But, Ballmer … is such an interesting guy. You know, I remember when the monopoly, the first monopoly hearings happened in the U.S and the headline was in the newspapers, “Microsoft declared a monopoly”. There was a very touching interview that Ballmer gave with a pro Microsoft press, media outline, where he said: “And my son came home from school and he was crying and saying: Daddy, You didn’t do anything wrong, did you?” “No Son, I didn’t do anything wrong!” And I thought - Wow, it’s a good thing that he’s got a lot of money, because that kids gonna need therapy.

The fundamental problem with Microsoft is not, I mean, there are not bad people. Open Source is not about taking Microsoft down, it’s about putting great technology in many hands. There isn’t a bad person at Microsoft that I know of. But they believe, that any action is justifiable in the pursuit of profit. All bets are off. In fact, it’s war! We are at war. For these profits. And therefore we can do things that - you know, the normal rules of decorum do not apply. Because business is war. And I think that, that fundamental thing has reset their moral compass as a company. And they are, they are able to do things that I would not be able to do as a person, as an individual. Like use someone’s intellectual property in a way that they know is going to destroy your business. Because they’re big enough, that they can get away with it.

04:48 So, Open Source is not about taking Microsoft down, it’s about putting great technology in many hands. As a consequence of the fact that that’s happening,  it is also putting pressure on a very proprietory software company. And they are a smart company and they will inevitably eventually figure out how to play - but before they do that, they gonna try every possible outlet to continue to gain on the system that they can find, ‘cause this is how they’re wired. It’s all about profit. 05:24 The reason why open source happened, the reason it started, was because the people who make software are artists and craftsmen. They are not just mindless drones, that show up every day and put in their hours. They spend their evenings, their weekends, unbelievable amounts of time crafting this software. And they wanna see it used by the most people, and they wanna see it used for the best purposes, typically, and they didn’t see that happening in the proprietary software world, not any of the proprietary software companies. And so they decided – because they could – to write their own world!



Interview by Mariann Unterluggauer