Jonathan Schwartz Actually Sane, Nuanced

I’m John Kerry,” by Rx, Dick is a Killer, track 9, http://www.thepartyparty.com/.

Scare Tactics in the World of Open Source,” by Jonathan Schwartz, Jonathan’s Weblog, 4 April 2005, http://blogs.sun.com/roller/page/jonathan/20050315#disinformation_about_open_source.

The Participation Age,” by Jonath Schwartz, Jonathan’s Weblog, 4 April 2005, http://blogs.sun.com/roller/page/jonathan/20050404#inevitability.

Now I know that there are those who criticize me
for seeing complexities
And I do
Because some issues just aren’t all that simple

I’m John Kerry may be the acceptence speech that the Senator should have given, but the above lines also work for Sun’s Schwartz. Earlier I criticized him for managed economy neomercantilism. In response a kind commenter asked me to read his blog. I did, and my verdict is Jonathan Schwartz is a smart and mostly wrong.

He is wrong on software patents. He is wrong on Java. And he is right on the economics of free software.

First, software patents

Over the course of our conversation, [another executive]e started telling me about his efforts to encourage his portfolio companies to lobby governments to bring software patents to an end. What? Until then, my view on the elimination of software patents was that the vanguard of that position were those without the ability or wherewithal to fight against established patent aggressors. Those who could honestly look at the confusion the US has created around the proliferation of spurious patents, who sought to help others defend against potential inequity – while they built their own value.

But I’m confident an accomplished Silicon Valley VC wasn’t the sympathetic constituency the European Union had in mind when it recently considered the reformation – and elimination – of software patents. Asking fledgling nations without software patent portfolios to forego the creation of defensible IP – while the wealthiest nation on earth keeps its powder dry – doesn’t seem equitable or desirable. At best, the view that patents should be eliminated for everyone but the US is misguided – at worst, it’s a truly cynical attempt to magnify inequities rather than destroy them.

Schwartz misses the point. First, he is talking about software patents specifically, not patents generally. Second, the EU’s attempt to restore pre-1990s rules on patents is an attempt to get the US to go back as well. It is an attempt to get them abolished worldwide. Jonathan misrepresents the movement.

And having said it before, let me say it again. I believe in IP. I believe in its value, both economic and social. I believe it should be protected, as any other property, as a means of fostering independence, investment and autonomy. And not just in wealthy nations – but in those struggling to build wealth or pay down debt. I believe the creation, protection and evolution of intellectual property can accelerate everyone’s ability to participate in an open network.

Intellecual property is not just another kind of property. It is artificial. The Constitution proclaims

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

Unlike property, which is protected from seizure by the Constitution, the founding document of the United States shows that “intellectual property” is a fiction to improve the general welfare.

But occasionally he’s right

That same day, Dan [Rosensweig, President of Yahoo!] had posted absolutely incredible performance at Yahoo!, delivering their first billion dollar year (in earnings, not revenue, earnings). Which gave me the perfect backdrop for my answer.

“Last I checked, Yahoo! was free.. But with a billion in earnings, Dan, has anyone ever accused you of being a communist?” Dan said “Nope.”

In my view, the economics of free and open source software are identical to the economics of free search, TV, radio, checking accounts or mobile phones – the money’s not in the access to the product, it’s in the services and value delivered around the product. he vendors of those products have a huge interest in eliminating the divide between them and their customers, one typically based on price – as a means of enabling higher value opportunities. It’s a basic concept, and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know my views on how networks and subscriptions (whether to handsets, software updates, roadside emergency services or sell-side analyst reports), over the longer term, can change price and value equations for businesses that know how to exploit them.

Right on. Microsoft and others often occuse open source proponents of being closet Communists. His willingness to honestly debate the measure is refreshing.

So he’s not actually insane. But he’s still wrong. Mostly.

2 thoughts on “Jonathan Schwartz Actually Sane, Nuanced”

  1. Actually, read his blog – Schwartz is mostly right. He isn’t saying we should justify patents, he’s saying the world shouldn’t be duped by Red Hat and IBM out to fleece the planet under the guise of helping them.

  2. Thanks for the comment. His blog is interesting reading. How are Red Hat and IBM attempting to fleece the planet?

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