I am submitting a comment to Wen Wen and Chris Forman's Viewpoint on the Communications of the ACM, titled Economic and business dimensions: Do patent commons and standards-setting organizations help navigate patent thickets?. I believe my comment is worth sharing a bit more openly, so here it goes. Nevertheless, please refer to the original article; it makes very interesting and valid points, and my comment should be taken as an extra note on a great text only!
I was very happy to see an article with this viewpoint published. This article, however, mentions some points I believe should be further stressed out as problematic and important. Namely, still at the introduction, after mentioning that patents «are intended to provide incentives for innovation by granting to inventors temporary monopoly rights», the next paragraph continues, «The presence of patent thickets may create challenges for ICT producers. When introducing a new product, a firm must identify patents its product may infringe upon.»
The authors continue explaining the needed process — But this simple statement should be enough to explain how the patent system is broken and needs repair.
A requisite for patenting an invention was originally the «inventive» and «non-obvious» characteristics. Anything worth being granted a patent should be inventive enough, it should be non-obvious to an expert in the field.
When we see huge bodies of awarded (and upheld) patents falling in the case the authors mention, it becomes clear that the patent applications were not thoroughly researched prior to their patent grant. Sadly, long gone are the days where the United States Patent and Trademarks Office employed minds such as Albert Einstein's; nowadays, the office is more a rubber-stamping bureaucracy where most patents are awarded, and this very important requisite is left open to litigation: If somebody is found in breach of a patent, they might choose to defend the issue that the patent was obvious to an expert. But, of course, that will probably cost more in legal fees than settling for an agreement with the patent holder.
The fact that in our line of work we must take care to search for patents before releasing any work speaks a lot about the process. Patents are too easily granted. They should be way stricter; the occurence of an independent developer mistakenly (and innocently!) breaching a patent should be most unlikely, as patents should only be awarded to truly non-obvious solutions.
The third lesson of the «Arte y cultura en circulación: crear y compartir en tiempos digitales» course was quite easy, at least for me, as it's one of the topics I've been involved with for a long time: Authors' rights and ways to exercise them.
This lesson starts by talking about the paradoxes created in the reality beneath copyright mostly due to the zero-cost-for-perfect-copy reality we live in today, and then goes on to introduce the most widely spread licensing schemes for cultural works nowadays: The Creative Commons licensing schemes.
What I felt very interesting is that the lesson tackles the most common issues raised by authors choosing CC licensing: The Non-Commercial and Non-Derivatives restrictions. While authors are usually not very hard to convince about the virtues (and their personal benefit) in CC licensing, it's usually hard for authors to accept and relinquish the "locks" on non-derivability and non-commercial-use.
Now, as to the homework: This time, I have to admit it was a no-brainer to me. The homework was to take part of a "Licenciatón": Publish some work under a open or free license (a work of any kind; it can be text, photo, video, etc.; it can be a new or a pre-existing work) and argue as to why did you choose said license.
Even the act of writing this blog post means I'm releasing some work. The bottom of my blog reads, «All the material found at this site is freely available, and you can use it as you wish, except when the document mentions explicitly different conditions.» Yes, this is not a widely known, preexisting licensing scheme, and more or less goes along the lines of CC0 — There are some good things I have posted in this blog, some things I am proud about. This post goes more towards the average quality: Not adding anything of great value to the world, just reiterating/reposting what is already said. But I know this blog is syndicated over several different places, and its content might be copied over to other places. I don't need to know or be notified about it. I just care for people to be able to reach back if they want to do it.
But, of course, if I'm asked to do a homework, I prefer not to have it so self-referential. What else to license?
We are over halfway across the Wiki Loves Monuments contest for 2013. This year I am clearly not as active on it as I was last year, but yesterday I uploaded about 60 photos from our recent trips, from historical monuments in some towns/cities within ~150Km of Mexico City: Puebla, Tlaxcala, Cacaxtla, Toluca, Santiago Tianguistenco. I intend to upload more. Those photos are licensed CC-BY-SA. Why? Mainly, because it is the defaul for the contest. One of the lessons learned working on Debian is that the less the license I choose deviates from what the upstream authors of a larger project prefer, the more useful my work will be. And being Wikimedia a host of many related projects, I prefer to completely abide by their recommendations unless there is a real, strong reason not to do so.
Also, I know that at least most the photos I am uploading are not of contest quality (although some are quite nice, but we don't take that long to take a shot, and our camera is probably too basic to get a quality shot, if not by mere chance). I am using the WLM contest as an excuse to categorize and upload my pictures — Of course, I'm not including personal photos, but... If I found a building, place or landscape interesting enough to take a photo of, why not make said photo available for whoever needs it, in a canonical, easy to reach media repository (as Wikimedia Commons) is)?
And finally, I think it's time to start getting more open and forward-going with a project that I have been giving a lot of work during the past year, a project that has been even eating quite a bit of my Debian time: My upcoming book. While this book is not yet freely licensed (it is freely distributed online, but does not yet have an explicit license, and I mention it on my teaching/project page. Why? Because it still has some figures and data which are not mine, and which I have to re-elaborate to be able to legally license it.
But anyway — I am writing a book on the subject of Operating Systems, and am basing my teaching on it. The first semester was basically hell for me, as I was working almost full time on it, and needed to allocate some time as well to the rest of my formal work. This second semester has been quite smoother. And there is a very important (to me) initiative to which I (or should I now start saying, we) submitted this work: The LATIn Project: An initiative to collaboratively create quality, freely redistributable text books for the university level, natively in Spanish, for their use in Latin American countries.
I was not able to propose this book due to some formalities — Projects have to be proposed by professors in participant universities, and UNAM is not one of them. However, I offered this work to people in the Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina, and they managed to push the project forward. Together with people from Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes (México) and Universidad del Cauca (Colombia), the project was approved by LATIn.
And this LATIn project can also be seen as a why do you agree to license your work this way? candidate: I have already written most of what I'd be happy to call a full book. Of course, I do expect my colleagues to chime in with more content, and I expect us to produce a true collaborative project. But as I am not part of the member universities, they will get paid for their contribution — And not me. What do I have to gain from this?
More than anything else, the circulation of my work. I'm sure that, were I to publish from UNAM, I would have a good projection. I was (am!) thinking of looking for opportunities to present the book to teachers on the subject, as well as to computing engineering/science students, but the most attractive part (for me) for LATIn is that part of the prize will be that the book will be used to base work on for teaching at least during 2014 in the three said universities — And of course, my/our work will only start then, as we will have to further circulate the work.
Anyway... I expected this post to be small. But as you can see, I am happy with important work perspectives :-)
It seems I'm catching up with the pace of this course I'm following and that is compelling me to go back to posting on my blog, «Arte y cultura en circulación: crear y compartir en tiempos digitales».
This week's lesson is (again, in Spanish) «Las fronteras del remix» (the boundaries of remixes). An interesting text, open to everybody (regardless of whether you are signed up for the course or, I hope, whether time has passed since the course took place).
And this week's homework is to find "our favorite" non-original work (I picked one among my favorite works — And, yes, this is partly because I am part of the "club" of deniers of true originality: We cannot create anything without being part of a surrounding culture, without a common heritage and language with which we speak to our audience) and to find something about it, anything considered important or significative as to its antecedents. What do I like about this work, what grabs my attention. Do I consider it to be a true new creative work? Why?
I am taking as an example Leo Masliah, an Uruguayan writer and musician (writer and interpreter). I have followed and enjoyed Masliah's work since 1996, and although by far I'm most familiar with his musical works, I have two books (a novel and a series of short stories). Among his facets, I most enjoy the acid, nihilistic/dadaistic streaks. I chose three of his songs to talk about — I am linking to anonline resource where possible, but uploading the three songs to this blog to make his work better known, so that people understand what I talk about, and with my best intentions. Of course, if there is any request to remove the material, I will do it right away. I hope this can be seen as fair/academic use, although this blog is somewhat widely read.
- La recuperación del unicornio
- This song was in the first Masliah cassette I came across, Although musically it is an original work, the lyrics are a clear, almost line-by-line reply to the ever-repeated Unicornio song, by Silvio Rodríguez. This song (which I'm sure that every Spanish speaker reading this lines knows, like it or not — It defines for me a good deal of Rodríguez hyper-sweetness and clicheness) has been analyzed over and over looking for a meaning. Silvio recorded this song in 1981, and by 1987 Masliah published this answer, mocking each of the lines.
So, this song can be seen as an original creation, as it contains no literal copy neither of the music nor of the lyrics of the original, but it cannot be understood without being familiar with Silvio's lost unicornio. It would just be an almost-dadaistic rant. But every person that has tasted Silvio Rodríguez cloying song will surely laugh with this one.
- No necesitamos otro héroe – Balderrama
- I find this to be a very unique piece. It bonds together Argentinian folklore and USA pop.
Masliah sings the famous Argentinian song Zamba de Balderrama, (Castilla / Leguizamón), a song lamenting that the very popular bar and artist stage Balderrama, in Salta (North-Western corner of Argentina), seemed to be on the brink of closing. Of course, when Martín, Constanza, Regina and me went to Balderrama in July 2010, the danger of closing this place had long been averted. And basically every Argentinian knows this song by heart.
The interesting part is that Masliah sings this song (as he presents it as the closing piece for one of his concerts) being short on time, and decides to present two acts together: Zamba de Balderrama and We don't need another hero, by Tina Turner, from the Mad Max soundtrack. So, of course, even if it's obvious that Masliah had to stretch bits to make them fit together, he achieved a very funny, interesting and unique blend of two completely unrelated works. He derives from one as well as from the other, but creates something unique and new.
- Donna Lee
- I was thinking what to write for this assignment , and had already chosen the two other songs. Yesterday, we were visiting our friends Octavio and Claudia, in Guanajuato, and I heard for the first time the original(?) version of Donna Lee, by Miles Davis (although often credited to Charlie Parker). That led me to remember Masliah's interpretation, in his Clásicos album. This album is basically made up with similar excercises: Taking an instrumental piece, with Masliah singing over it. Some of the lyrics follow the story (i.e. the children stories), others just talk nonsense to illustrate a point (i.e. "La voz del medio", "the middle voice") follows the non-protagonist score trying not to grab much attention to the lyrics but to highlight the often ignored melody)... Donna Lee is just a fun excercise on following the melody asking what was in the head of the author that led him to invent such a strange, hard music.
Masliah is a great music performer, although often it seems he tries to hide it (i.e. by abusing the dissonances, ex-profeso singing off-key, etc), and a very funny and crazy author. Most of his works have a deep satirical tone, and it's common to find either simple winks or complete "borrowings" in a clear remix fashion, but nobody will doubt on the originality of his works.
I signed up to take part of an online, massive course — «Arte y cultura en circulación: crear y compartir en tiempos digitales» (The circulation of arts and culture: Creating and sharing in digital times). As the activities of us the attendees are to be published by each on their personal blog/space, I will be publishing them here. I hope they are interesting to some of my other regular readers.
I am late in joining, and I should already be posting the second activity. Anyway, this text goes towards the first week's lesson: Qué es un autor: la (de)construcción histórica del concepto de autoría (What is an author? Historic (de)construction of the concept of authorship). Our homework is to find an example of a current discussion where the notion of authorship is discussed, and share it this way.
And I'm somewhat in a hurry right now, so this will be hasty. But I didn't want to delay my (late) submission anymore!
In the Debian Ruby mailing list, Hleb Valoshka asks basically how deep should copyright recognition be. Because, yes, while copyright attribution is simple (simpler, at least) in literary / artistic works, computer programs (and even more those developed following the Free Software distributed fashion) are harder to properly attribute.
Is a two-line patch to a tens-of-thousands-of-lines project enough to warrant mention in the copyright file? Most of us would agree it is not. Few would contend this were the amount of changes to make up, say, even 1% of that scale of project.
In the coding projects where I am the main author (which, yes, are usually very small — I cannot recognize myself as a good programmer, and the size of my successful works proves me), I try to take care to mention explicitly each of the contributors, even if their contribution is quite small. But were I to lead a larger development work, with enough following to generate on the order of one submitted patch a day, would it make sense for me to follow up with such detail the authorship information?
And as a minor side note: How much does the law require me? A very small patch can fix important functionality issues (think security or performance). If somebody sends a very small patch fixing an intellectually hard to grasp problem... I am sure it should be properly acknowledged!
Anyway, I have to flee now. I am just dropping some ideas on the table. Of course, if anybody is willing to discuss them further, I'm interested in any debate that springs off it!
(Meanwhile... I expect to spam you with this topic a couple of times. But it should not bug you much, as it's one of my usual blog topics!)