A reality check is a bitter sweet pill. The sweetness comes from the truth and the bitterness is in the swallowing.
This week I received a letter from an inventor. An inventor who loves the world but sleeps on a couch. When I asked him about collaborating, the response was uncertain: Although he knew that the open source method would bring his invention to people faster, he wanted to be compensated for his work and therefore was going to get a patent. Would we still collaborate with a “closed” business?
Since we agreed that open source method was better for humanity, I responded with ways in which the open source method could also benefit the inventor.
His reply left me with a tough pill to swallow. His father was an open source inventor. He gave the world the Winiarski rocket stove. In return, other organizations received millions of dollars in grants, while he receives little more than social security. And while he does bask in the love of helping thousands, it doesn’t put bread on his table.
His contribution to society is honorable, but how do we take it to the next level, where inventors too are financially honored for their work?
In the conventional invention world, one inventor is the mad scientist, devoting all spare moments and spare change to breathing life into an idea. A patent or investor may alleviate the financial burden, but it may just as likely leave the inventor high and dry. Check out Don Lancaster’s Patent Avoidance Library.
Open source development is meant to distribute the risk. With many people contributing (albeit some more than others) the risk development burden is shared. At Open Source Ecology, we ask people to contribute financially, intellectually, and organizationally. (Feel free to contact us for more info– simply leave a comment below.)
Ask and you shall receive. And if you don’t receive, prepare yourself further, and ask again. I think many people who make great contributions to the world, to their communities, and to their families, forget about themselves. They forget to meet their own basic needs. They fail to ask others for help.
Asking for contributions of any sort is easier today than ever before with the internet. Explain your story. People listen.
But it does require persistence, paperwork, and publicity. Not everyone has the time, energy or skills for this. We hope that through our collaboration efforts, we are able offer an alternative. For example, if an inventor has a very worthwhile product, which he/she invested much time, effort, and resources personally and is reluctant to open source their work (perhaps for very legitimate reasons), than we (the great global we) could decide whether or not to collaboratively fund an effort to “buy out” the inventor to and put the product into the open source domain. This is not the ideal situation. (Open development is ideal.) But ideal isn’t always practical, especially as we are in a time of transition.
We believe that ultimately, people must produce goods. It feels funny to say this when we live in a time that is burdened with “stuff“. But the truth is very few real goods are being produced. We sorely need producers of wholesome, responsible products. That means the inventor, too can be a producer.
Indirectly, the inventor(s) may benefit through publicity. Someone may offer paying work as a result of the inventor(s) open source developments. This method works for some people. But it has no guarantees. This method alone would certainly not pay for a world-class research and development budget, at least not in a timely manner.
One way to solve this conundrum would be an open source product label. This might be used to guarantee to the consumer that a percentage of the price is going back into research and development. A label could guarantee that the product is made justly– similar to a fair trade or organically grown mark. A label would let the consumer know what version of a design they have and who produced it, who designed it, and who changed what in the design.
These are explorations in creating the open source economics of the future. What are your thoughts? What is the best way to neocommercialize? What other challenges must be overcome? What solutions are brewing?
Also, for those who are interested, preliminary designs for the Solar Concentrator are posted on the wiki. Feel free to add your comments and insights.