September 18, 2004

Intellectual Property Values

Philosophy By: ams

Ross Mayfield writes in his post Patents, RFCs, and Reputation,

Here’s a thought, which is more valuable: the Eolas Patent on browser plugins or Dave Crocker’s RFC for email?

Eolas recieved a half a billion settlement from Microsoft, and the original inventors could realize a considerable reward, if appeals reach an end. I’m using Eolas as one of the perfect examples of pure return, and this is in no way a knock against the inventors. A patent and a standard are hard to compare because the process of invention is so different. But to you personally and society the answer is clearly the latter.

The real question is, have standards surpassed patents in reputational return?

This reminds me how strong the tradeoff is in deciding the value of intellectual property when it’s being created. Those who want money and power choose to close access to an innovation through patents and the protection of the law; those who want fame and glory choose to open access to an invention through standards and the leverage of an appeal to something bigger. When a person or company can do both at the same time — the so-called embrace-and-extend strategy — that person or company has the foundation for an empire.

Ross points out that “Aaron Swartz is right to be proud and congratulated on RFC 3870“, and we agree.

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