Let's Pay For Open Source With A Closed-Source Software Levy

Glyn Moody | ComputerWorld UK | October 22, 2014

Applying the open source dividend to software

This column has often explored ways in which some of the key ideas underlying free software and open source are being applied in other fields. But that equivalence can flow in both directions: developments in fields outside the digital world may well have useful lessons for computing. A case in point is a fascinating post by James Love, Director of Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), a non-governmental organisation concerned with public health and other important issues.

It is called "The value of an open source dividend", and is a discussion of the problems the world of pharma faces because of the distorting effect of patents - problems it shares with the world of computing:

the proliferation of patents, trade secrets and the restrictive licensing of patents, materials, data, know-how and knowledge in general also has negative effects. For example, [the drug company] Gilead recently told KEI that its development efforts for new treatments for hepatitis C were delayed for years by the patent thickets on the hepatitis C virus, a concern predicted by Baruch Blumberg in 1996 in litigation over the overly broad scope of patents on the virus.

In many ways, the drug world provides us with a warning of what could happen in the world of computing if software patents are allowed to become as big a brake on innovation there as they are in the field of medicine. Love goes on:

Sir John Sulston, a joint winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, once told KEI that research that is open to everyone is at least nine times more valuable to society than research that is closed...