Well, I’m back at ISPCS again, one of my favorite conferences about spaceflight. And this year I am joined by Greg Moran, Mach 30’s vice president. One of the first day’s panels concerned intellectual property as business assets. Just as the panel was about to start, Greg asked me if I was going to ask the panel a question about open source hardware. My response was “of course not, I learned a long ago bringing up open source in large sessions like this doesn’t work.” Well, this panel showed me I hadn’t learned that lesson as well as I thought.
The first panelist was from the Patent and Trademark Office and she presented a number of changes which are in the works concerning how patents and patent applications work. Given that our mission involves open sourcing our designs instead of patenting them, her material did not really concern Mach 30. The second speaker was the CEO of a computer peripheral company which derives a great deal of its income from its patent portfolio, so much so that he described his business as an intellectual property business instead of a hardware business. At some point he went as far as to suggest the new space companies should consider a similar model. Well, that was the proverbial straw for me, so I posted the following (somewhat snarky tweet) to vent my frustration over his message.
Wondering what the IP panelists @ #ISPCS would think about the open source hardware movement and open source spaceflight
— Mach 30, Inc. (@Mach_30) October 19, 2011
Now, I knew in the back of my mind that the ISPCS staff were going to draw some audience questions from tweets tagged with “#ISPCS“, but that hadn’t happened yet, so I figured nothing else would come of it. Imagine my surprise when one of the first questions was preceded with the caveat that it came from twitter, and then heard my tweet read out loud, followed by the sound of crickets. No one on the stage understood what the question was even asking, so I raised my hand, claimed ownership of the question, and elaborated on it. So, how did the panelists respond? I think the twitterverse said it best.
The faces on the IP panelists when presented with the idea of open-source spaceflight was classic. They were fed a lemon! #ISPCS
— Marimikel Charrier (@Marimikel) October 19, 2011
Ouch! Well, the second panelist did say something about liking his monopolies. But wait, there’s more.
#ISPCS panel on IP clearly "doesn't get" open source movement. Wonder how many of then have used Linux….
— Erika Wagner (@ad_astra2) October 19, 2011
Maybe we need to do some outreach on the benefits software companies large and small have gotten from open source software?
And do you want to know the best part? Greg and I got several “oh that was you” comments when we introduced ourselves at dinner and the reception afterwards. Let’s hear it for stirring the pot.