RE: [rp-ml] Z-corp, "open-sourcing" & "crowd-sourcing"

From: Jeremy Pullin <>
Date: Thu Nov 24 2011 - 13:20:01 EET

I'm not as familiar with patent laws in the US as I am with those in the
UK and Europe but the idea of but the theory of BP and others
stockpiling crowd sourced ideas for their own evil ends sounds a little
conspiracy theorist to me. The problem with attempting to farm IP in
this way lies in 'Prior art'. Prior art which also known as 'state of
the art' or 'background art' refers to any information which has been
made available to the public before a date that could be relevant to a
patent's claims of originality. Basically, if an invention has been
described in prior art, a patent on that invention is not valid. To
establish the validity of a patent application, the patent offices
explore the prior art that existed before the invention occurred (in the
US) or before the application was filed (in the rest of the world).
Obviously there is no way that BP could track down the hundreds of
thousands of people that submitted ideas and sign them all up non
disclosure agreements. If the ideas were submitted onto discussion
forums and publicly accessible web portals at the time then that
constitutes prior art and even if BP restricted access to them after the
oil spill had been dealt with, there is still no way that any patents
they attempted to file would be valid. If BP (or others) were to be
awarded a patent due to no prior art showing up on the initial 'Novelty
search' the awarded patent could still then be ruled invalid if prior
art was found during a subsequent 'validity search'.

For the reasons above the scenario described where open source and crowd
sourced 'free offerings get co-oped by large commercial interests,
which can then go on to acquire patents on things they didn't even
invent and then completely control them' cannot happen. Once something
has gone 'open source' such as RepRap or Arduino it cannot be seized
upon by anyone and retrospectively patented. Even if it is then the
patent can be retrospectively ruled as being invalid. Not even Adrian
Bowyer could get a valid patent on the RepRap now even though he is
widely and rightly recognized as the father of the platform. I hope that
puts your mind at rest a bit about open source.





From: [] On
Behalf Of G. Sachs
Sent: 23 November 2011 18:36
Subject: [rp-ml] Z-corp, "open-sourcing" & "crowd-sourcing"


Some good points, Markus and Adrian (especially about some of the
screwed-up things that go on in the U.S.!).

While this is starting to get pretty far afield from the original,
Z-corp, acquisition story, this discussion does bring up some other
interesting questions about current economic trends and future
employment possibilities and risks (with one of the less optimistic of
those being that, most of us, may just end up working for little or
nothing, in the future!). For example one of my biggest concerns with
regards to both "open-sourcing" and its close cousin, "crowd-sourcing",
is when these free offerings get co-oped by large commercial
interests, which can then go on to acquire patents on things they didn't
even invent and then completely control them. If and when this happens,
it clearly defeats the purpose of the original, non-commercially,
motivated work.

For instance, during last year's Gulf oil disaster, there was a
worldwide call for ideas to help stop the disaster and clean it up.
Literally hundreds of thousands of ideas were generated and sent in to
BP (at the request of the Obama administration). In the end, BP and the
Obama administration claimed that not even a single useful, or
practical, idea was generated from all this effort. In following up on
this truly, record breaking, crowd-sourcing "experiment", I discovered
that most of the participants never got any feedback from BP; no one in
the government wanted to directly deal with any of the incoming ideas
(that's why they were all referred to BP) which lead to and allowed BP
to stockpile them into a huge proprietary database (repository) that
only BP now has access to. This database has never been made public even
though everything in it was contributed by the public and more
troublesome, it is now not available to journalists and outside
independent scientists to evaluate. To make matters worse, BP now has
the right to patent anything derived from that database that the
original proposers may not have thought to try and patent at the time of
submission - i.e. those who so enthusiastically participated in this
crowd-sourcing "exercise" ( homework), have now allowed for their
commercially exploitation. Another example of this can be found in the
protein folding websites and "games", that encourage people to help
figure out how certain (very important) proteins are spatially
configured. At first I thought this was a great idea and it sounded like
both fun and "helpful to society", but then I realized that many of
these solutions will go on to help large pharmaceutical companies
developing new drugs (and make lots of money), without the "solvers"
being compensated at all.

There are also a few web sites devoted exclusively to providing clients
with crowd-sourced solutions to very tough problems, in exchange for
either just some "recognition", or in exchange for a, rather small,
fixed-price reward - provided they are successful in finding a
solution. Of coarse, if they are not completely successful (according to
the paying client), then they get absolutely no compensation for their
efforts. In addition to this, rather suspect, "reward model", the
question of what happens to the runner-up ideas (which also may still be
quite good) is never made clear - but I suspect the client gets to keep
and use any of those as well, even though they have to pay nothing for

When I questioned one of the founders of one of these crowd-sourcing
sites about the equity of such business models, he told me that the
non-financial rewards to the participants was, perhaps, just as valuable
as the, possible, financial rewards (i.e. I guess the prestige of being
named a "solver" might be worth just as much as any actual monetary
compensation) - to which I responded that "prestige" was all, well and
good, but I'd, still, much prefer "the cash". I also made it clear that
I didn't much care for their business model and indented to expose it
for what it really was.

G. Sachs

P.S. When it comes to the issue of IP rights, at least in the U.S., it
all gets very complicated, very fast. There are no clear and simple
answers as to what can and cannot happen and unfortunately there are
considerations and "strategies" that go beyond just the law. When it
comes right down to it, IP (in the U.S. at least) is really just a an
example of game theory applied to the world of ideas.


From: Markus Hitter <>
To: Jeremy Pullin <>
Cc: " list" <>
Sent: Wed, November 23, 2011 8:34:57 AM
Subject: Re: [rp-ml] Zcorp!?

Am 22.11.2011 um 15:22 schrieb Jeremy Pullin:

> Just think how much computer hardware and ancillaries have been sold
> linux users over the years. Giving things away free does not nor will
> ever remove or even reduce the necessity for money and financial
> exchanges.

This is true and there are a few additional points:

- If you buy a consumer PC, you get a closed source operating system for
free, preinstalled. Well, perhaps not for free, but you can't avoid it
anyways. So, the cost of proprietary stuff in the PC world is very low
and undoubtly a noticeable number of PC users use the preinstalled OS
just out of laziness.

- In the computer server market, where people take a lot more care what
variant of software they're running, open source OSs are on par or even
dominant over proprietary counterparts.

- Sheer price. Windows server costs a 3 digit number, a Rapid
Prototyping machine costs a 5 digit number. The more digits, the more
people think.

- An important difference between open source software and open source
hardware: with hardware, you can make quite some money by just
manufacturing copies. Material price for the plastics parts of a RepRap
is about EUR 5.-, still the price of such printed sets currently settles
somewhere at EUR 65.- to EUR 80.-. No such thing with software, nobody
would pay you a single Euro for just downloading a Linux kernel or
Ubuntu OS*.

This later point leads to quite a number of people doing financially
healthy business by just making copies - not just Adrian with his 5
friends. It also leads to many people designing something new in the
prospect of selling the result. It also leads to some RepRappers saying:
developers do the work, copy shops collect the money.

To keep the topic: open source hardware is very obviously a working
innovation model, not just a freetime hobby for altruists. Think of your
engineering textbooks being full of downloadble designs and you
concentrate yourself on just the new part. That's close to what happens
in the open source hardware community.

Markus Hitter
aka "Traumflug" on RepRap

* When downloading legal music, you don't pay the download either, but a
licence fee for "owning" the music.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dipl. Ing. (FH) Markus Hitter

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Received on Thu Nov 24 13:24:18 2011

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