We Speet On You

3:00 PM -- Tech venture capitalist Brad Feld, head of Mobius Venture Capital in Boulder, has been a long-time and outspoken advocate of abolishing software patents -- a radical idea that has particular relevance, in these days of rampant litigation, to the enterprise mobile email market. (See Here We Go Again.)

Now, Feld has posted a link to a little-known but intriguing paper from MIT management professor Eric von Hippel and Emmanuelle Fauchart, of the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, in Paris, that examines "norms-based" (i.e.,non-legal) intellectual-property protection among French chefs. That's right, chefs.

Von Hippel and Fauchart examined a set of 500 chefs in France and concluded that they have an effective way of protecting original recipes even though the recipes cannot be copyrighted or patented. Basically, the norms-based system works by social stigma: If you copy a recipe without attribution to its originator, we will disown you from the corps de gastronomie. (You'll have to pardon me if an Inspector-Clouseau accent creeps in here.) Bottom line: it generally works, without recourse to lawyers or the courts.

"Now – try substituting 'software developer' for French Chef," writes Feld. "While there are definitely some things to work out, if we add a few simple lessons from open source software development communities, you can almost imagine a norms-based IP approach for software."

"Almost" is probably the functional term in that sentence, but it's certainly an attractive thought. Mobile email companies like to say they're taking the high road when it comes to patent disputes, even as they're lawyering up. What if the consequence of violating someone's intellectual property rights was simply that no one would work (or interoperate) with you?

Idealistic? Sure. And far superior to the current mess.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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