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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

OLPC - CTO Quits to Become Patent Holder

The Chief Technology officer for One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Mary Lou Jepsen has left the non-profit to start company that will commercialize inventions related to display technology. She has stated that she will continue to offer improvements to OLPC at a discount:

"I will continue to give OLPC product at cost, while providing commercial entities products they would like at a profit," Jepsen wrote in an e-mail.

I am dubious of whether it is a good idea for OLPC to actively license technology even at cost. My understanding was that OLPC rejected an offer from Microsoft to license a stripped down version of Windows in favor of Linux as its primary OS. Basing OLPC on free open inventions allows the most flexibility for developing nations to use the machines. Before leaving OLPC Jepsen did submit patent 20070285428 ('428 for short) to the USPTO for approval. I am curious how OLPC will treat this patent. The OLPC wiki has a strong statement in favor of Open Software, authored by Benjamin Mako Hill:

"[OLPC] Must not be otherwise encumbered by software patents which restrict modification or use in the ways described above. All patents practiced by software should be sublicenseable and allow our users to make use or sell derivative versions that practice the patent in question."

There is no similar statement about hardware patents related to OLPC. I would hope that all patents related to OLPC would be held in an patent pool similar to IBM's patent commons that allows for open source use and innovation. I am curious about how OLPC plans to use '428 in the future.

Related documents:
Patent 20070285428 (an OLPC patent on which Jepsen is listed as an inventor)
Computer World

PS Do not confuse Mary Luo Jepsen new patent's with "jepson claims". I did, but I am better now. If anyone has a full copy of Mary Luo Jepsen's email I would be interested in reading it please email me at Brian (at) FreedomforIP (dot) org.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Huge props to Michelle Murrain and NOSI!

Just read the new Open Source Primer from Nonprofit Open Source Initiative written by Michelle Murrain. The primer does an incredibly thorough and fair job of weighing the economic, temporal, and philosophical benefits of proprietary and open source software. It also documents case studies from front runners in open source software development and small nonprofits who are just starting to use Linux. My favorite passage:
Community ownership of software is also in itself consonant with the missions of many nonprofit organizations, whose role is in strengthening community. By using tools that are owned by everyone, you know that you aren't building your work in a way that depends on or benefits any one corporation or institution, but building your work in a way that benefits everyone.

This is a well written and well researched opus that will benefit the nonprofit community hugely in the years to come. Bravo!

Cross-posted to my personal blog - Civil Disobedient

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Monday, May 28, 2007

NetSquared. And how!

Went to the NetSquared reception this evening. What an incredible group of people! I personally talked to folks from Freecycle, Democracy Player, HELP, and YouthAssets. These are amazing people. Many of them have only recently gotten 501c3 status, and are pursuing these projects on their own time. I thought I was the only person in the world doing that, but I met several people tonight who have contributed endless dollars and hours to their causes just because they believe that the world needs to change! I'm not alone!

I am greatly looking forward to meeting more of you all in the next two days, and I really enjoyed talking to those of you whom I met. You are really committed, socially conscious, tech-savvy people who are trying very hard to improve lives.

When we first walked into the hotel, we saw a bunch of people with stickers on their laptops sitting in the lobby to get the free wifi, and Brian said, "I think we've found our tribe". And how!

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Vista is a conflict of interest for nonprofits (and everyone else practicing ethical behavior)

As TechSoup just announced that they will be offering Vista and Word 2007 to nonprofits for about $20 a license, I feel this is an appropriate time to talk about the moral implications of purchasing these products.

There are many reasons to discourage nonprofits from accepting donated software from Microsoft. Most nonprofits exist because they are trying to make the world a better place. Most nonprofit employees apply their own morals to their purchases. We buy recycled paper. We buy fair trade coffee. Software has moral implications behind it as well. Microsoft has refused to allow others to customize or edit their software. They have refused to share their knowledge with the rest of the community. They use monopolistic practices to discourage innovation. They routinely hire contract employees and require them to take periods of time off unpaid to avoid paying them benefits.

For these reasons, I strongly encourage you to examine Open Source options. Free software is not called free simply because it doesn't cost anything. It is free because anyone can use it, build on it, customize it, change it, and share it. Thousands of volunteer developers have spent their time building these tools. The software is better and easier to use because it is built by software users for software users, not by contract employees without benefits designing for profit.

One of the tools available is Open Office at http://openoffice.org/. Another is Ubuntu at http://ubuntu.com/. Many people in the tech community help nonprofits out with these tools on a daily basis in tech forums. If you feel especially uncomfortable with them, and want someone to hold your hand all the way through, consider Red Hat at http://www.redhat.com; they charge for the service of implementing and customizing open source software built by volunteers. I've spoken to some open source developers, and they've told me that they do it because they want to help the world, and if you go to their forums they will answer your questions (and they won't charge you $30/hour like Microsoft). Moreover, these tools are updated more often than proprietary software, and the updates are free of charge.

Doesn't that sound better?

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