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Kaustuv De Biswas

Co-Founder, Vibrant Data

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Despite the controversy over patents, what is a progressive take on authorship in the collaborative world?

Live TED Conversation: Join TED Fellow Kaustuv Be Biswas

A US- and India-based entrepreneur whose experimental design firm, dplay, is building open-source toolboxes for design.

This Conversation opens on Nov. 8th at 1:00PM ET

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Closing Statement from Kaustuv De Biswas

There is a clear unresolved bifurcation between the desire to share collaborate freely, and the need to own and protect - more so in the creative domains. With the current backdrop of the US patent reform bill - which does not quite capture the common frustrations (eg. commercial giants hard to compete with), the conversation touched upon some interesting ideas and facets - from 'micro-patents', to 'free-essentials', to 'open patenting rounds' to 'ownership responsibilities' . Thank you all for an interesting hour!

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  • Nov 8 2011: well, one way to look at this question is to take a page out of the "micro-payment" economy - create a "micro-authorship" system. if we assume that it is easier to collaborate (remotely or otherwise), easier to document and backtrack each contributor's steps, easy/er to follow on the footsteps of the complete product, whatever that may be - then is something has been created by a 1000 collaborators all 1000 should share ownership and authorship, unless stated otherwise.
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      Nov 8 2011: Similar "micro-authorship' systems seem to be in place in the music industry.... it would be great to get the perspective from a record company, film studio, or entertainment lawyer on the pros and cons.
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    Nov 8 2011: Maybe we need a reverse of the current bill - what the current US bill pushes is early submission and protection. that in my opinion paves the way for more bogus patents. Rather what if the patenting around an idea remains open until an idea reaches a stage of maturity, depth and value. who ever participates in such a seed round, will co-share rights to ownership in some appropriate mechanism (maybe in a vested manner). What that will allow is to enlarge participation and speed up the process.
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    Nov 8 2011: My inventions came soley from my mind. I received zero help from the collaborative world. Would you like to know what the IPhone10s will look like? Would you like to know what it will do?

    I can always be reached at UltraEmpathy@aol.com
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    Nov 8 2011: Intellectual property is an interesting subject, and one that deserves a lot of thought.

    As one who generates content, copyrights, and is getting into trademarks and patents as well, I am somewhat torn. I feel that creative people should be rewarded for their work, and that giving such people incentive to push forward in their fields is imperative. At least in the 20th century, places where people could profit from their innovation the most tended to be the most innovative.

    However, in this day where open source, creative commons, and a basic sense that content should be free on the internet... it is no longer clear that the old model is still in effect. Plenty of progress is made in areas without any hope of profit. (Linux, Wikipedia etc.) There is an assumption that anything you could want to see can be viewed on YouTube for free. Bands and musical artists put their music up on MySpace & Soundcloud for free, and are happy when people download their stuff.

    Even some mainstream acts have done well with a model of 'pay as much as you want or even nothing, but download our album anyway.' Radiohead has actually made more money this way than they did when signed to a major label.

    I suppose a progressive take on authorship will have to take all of this in to consideration. Marcin Jakubowski in his TED talk http://www.ted.com/talks/marcin_jakubowski.html made some very solid points on the concept of open source blueprints for things like tractors, microchip printers and the other 50 things he determined to be essential for civilization.

    I am curious where this will go.
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      Nov 8 2011: Thank Jan for rounding it up well - I share the torn feeling as well - there is this clear bifurcation. The desire to share collaborate freely, and the need to own and protect. There is no clear resolution right now - the reason behind throwing the question before such a fantastic community.
      Taking from Marcin's talk - are you suggesting that 'essentials' should be open and free, while desire-ables (if can say so) come for a price :) Btw, love what Radiohead did!
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        Jah Sun

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        Nov 8 2011: I think that Marcin's concept is fabulous, and yes the essentials should be open. Luxury things or items that require a ton of R&D might need to keep their profit incentive...

        Hard to say, as the grey area would be vast.

        HIV drugs are R&D intensive, but the idea of withholding them from poor African villagers because they can not pay 10$ a pill is abhorrent.

        Perhaps we will see a Wikipedia of open source patents. There is already a growing Appropriate Technology movement, especially in the philanthropic charity world. (open sourced patents on well drilling, composting latrines, bio sand water filters and the like)
    • Nov 8 2011: I definitely understand that open source options leave little to no room for profit but there are other incentives that motivate people to join the open source movement. For example, open source encourages both experienced players and inexperienced learners to collaborate and learn from each other to create a final product.

      Also, open source is good for the general public. In other situations, firms may join forces in order to decrease their costs to creating a product, but still choose to raise prices. In other words, when firms engage in joint ventures, the result may be reduced competition. Reduced competition hurts the consumers because they have less options and may be subjected to paying higher prices.

      In open source, it is most often the case that low competition (high collaboration) produces high quality goods... a great benefit to the public. Last thought, I don't think that people really invest time in contributing to the development of an open source product with financial incentives in mind, but for what I believe to be more altruistic reasons, such as personal learning and the belief that information/technologies that make life and work more efficient and productive should be shared with everyone.
    • Nov 8 2011: Jah - interesting indeed, but what if the IP owner can CHOOSE who and when to expose his/her idea to? it could be protected on sunday and exposed on monday..
  • Nov 8 2011: Do you have any thoughts on why a country like India with so many trained technical and scientific resources is not generating enough IP or coming up with innovative world class products (besides the oft quoted example of the Tata Nano car)? Even the large and successful Indian IT companies appear to be totally focused on delivering services and don't have any product offerings (software or hardware) that are recognizable in the global marketplace.
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      Nov 8 2011: Arun, I recently started off an IP based company and part of it exists in India. From what I saw, its not the deficit in training, but a deficit in attitude that is at the heart of it. My hunch is that the core issue lies in the dogmatic and closed nature of our educational systems are. Its a longer conversation and being born and brought up in India, i feel very closely to this issue and I plan to invest myself to bring about a change - however small it might be!
  • Nov 8 2011: Aditya - ideally, and ideologically - i am in complete agreement with you. however, we exist under not only the rules of the legislator, but more importantly - under the regime of human nature: it is human to want to own, to need to own. it is not a "bad" thing to have ownership or claim authorship of something by default. it is true that the system underwhich most of us create is suffocating and abusive and needs to be changed. but i wouldn't rule out ownership as such.
    • Nov 8 2011: Eyal - I'm not ruling authorship out. I'm talking about how authorship almost plucks a 'blooming flower' of an idea from it's plant. I'm pointing towards how patents reserve their potent seed like nature and prevent so much fertility they can cause. I'm not saying ownership is "bad" but I'm also saying that complete ownership comes in the way of growth. What do you think?
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      Nov 8 2011: eyal, ownership is not a bad thing - however, dont you think that - if there is an opportunity for a community to develop it further - there should be a way to enclose that as well?
      • Nov 8 2011: i agree.
        my only reservation here would be that you will need to accurately define what an "idea" is, and what would it take to develop one. it's easy to see what the patenting system is paramount to the pharma industry, but at the same time how, as you correctly say, is almost destructive in other areas, and no wonder that open-source has originated essentially in the SW universe.
      • Nov 8 2011: Kaustuv - absolutely. which is why i believe in relational ownership, if you like, which is much more relevant to the world of collaborative design/development, your original point. i really believe that the patent system will collapse at some point.
      • Nov 8 2011: Do you mean if an owner is sitting on a neglected idea should a community have the option to foster it?
        • Nov 8 2011: I think yes. Doing that should also 'compulsorily' involve the owner in some way. This, I think provides ownership to both the owner and the community and prevents the idea from dying and helps it to branch out in the future.
        • Nov 8 2011: Kyle - this model basically exists in the pharma industry, only there a company can "sit" on a patent for a drug for 30 years i think - then in becomes a "generic" drug and is open to all to develop and sell. what if we bring that model to all other IP-protected things?
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        Nov 8 2011: In this day & age, the idea that you can keep any information from getting out into the world and being used how people see fit to use it is becoming passé. With sensitive information, it can cost more money and energy to keep something secret than the information is actually worth.

        At any rate, there will countries that don't respect intellectual property, pirates, poor kids who want to watch films they can't afford, and even people who willfully disrespect patents on medicines to provide them to the needy... whatever the holders of abstract copyrights, patents, and trademarks think about it.

        The Bern Convention is obsolete, and the Digital Millennium Copyright act is not any kind of successor. Whatever we do about this subject, we have to accept the fact that the content of most patents and copyrights can be disseminated around the world in a matter of seconds..
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    Nov 8 2011: @Jan, the new patent reform package has only a commercial take on the in my opinion - how to get more patents on the way quickly. It does not address how smaller companies can take on the giants.

    Looking at it philosophically, does not this institution of patenting slow down innovation and progress, by silo-ing development?
    • Nov 8 2011: Even looking at it practically, the current institution favors the giants with the resources to navigate the system. For the independent designer to understand (and pay for it) is stifling to their progress.

      Is an automatic protection a possibility for the smaller guy? Or is that too threatening to the system?
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        Nov 8 2011: In music and literature there is an automatic copyright whether you file it or not.

        It is still normal procedure to file the copyright because it enables one to prove when the items were created should it come down to litigation.

        But in the US at least, the minute a writer writes something down, it is copyrighted.
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        Nov 8 2011: Maybe we need an 'open patenting round' at the start, where when an idea is thrown out - its still open for others to participate as authors. Whoever show substantial contribution, gets to co-share the idea. What do you think? who is big or small comes at the end, not at the start then.
        • Nov 8 2011: i like where you're going with this..
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          Nov 8 2011: Interesting concept.

          It would be difficult in the current climate to keep large corporations from coming in and taking over every idea with commercial potential though.

          It could lead to a world where Monsanto and Novartis basically get free labor from the small biochemists of the world, for example.

          Maybe what will happen is the opposite... that a Wikileaks of patented information will come along and blow all the patents held by the big boys by giving them away. Pharma Napster...
        • Nov 8 2011: It would be a good start to have a place where 'open source minds' can collaborate. Nashville songwriters have long held that if you're 'in the room' when the song happens you have an equal cut whether you contributed 90% of the song or 10%. Virtual rooms - public, private...could be any way the host decides.

          At the end of the day, traditional IP can co-exist with the progressive version.
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    Nov 8 2011: @eyal, thats interesting - are you suggesting that there can be objective analytics to assign 'authorship'? how would backtracking occur?
  • Nov 8 2011: Is authorship synonymous with ownership?
    • Nov 8 2011: Kaustuv - it's not like a thought it through or anything :) - but i would argue that technology as we know it NOW as with it's exponential growth of capabilities will enable co-creators to not just manage a project (we all know that is happening) but also manage "authorship portions" if you will, bounded of course by pre-determined rules of engagement. as a designer and creator of IP, i can honestly say that if i knew that my rights on creation X were secure - it would take a load of my shoulders even if i knew that my "share", in whatever form - would be smaller. on the contrary, i would have been happy to share it with others. now there's a start-up for you - an intelligent IP-sharing engine :)
      easy? - no.
      possible? - absolutely.
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        Nov 8 2011: hah! an intelligent IP-sharing engine :) my hunch is the solution would be more ideological than technological!
        • Nov 8 2011: :)
          i would have to agree, although...gets me thinking a little bit...think of what happens in the music industry, film industry, soon with TC content, the kickstarter model etc...
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      Nov 8 2011: the latter is probably claimed :)
    • Nov 8 2011: not always, but i think that for the sake of this discussion yes.
  • Nov 8 2011: Collaboration fosters in an environment which is not bound by rules of usage or ownership. Intellectual property, where on one hand acts as a medal for corporate giants and many intellectuals, takes away any space which it could have created for other minds to come and grow that particular idea. Authorship is a passe in the age of open source and social media.
  • Nov 8 2011: What would be, in your opinion, the core of a new patent reform package that strictly promotes consumer and author welfare without creating similar problems that the existing system faces?