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August 27, 2007

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Chris Ward

The 'commercial' world is splitting apart from the 'scientific' world rather badly.

IBM as a profit-seeking corporation is bounded by the three commercial laws of copyright, patent, and anti-trust.

It employs copyright lawyers with tbe brief to prevent IBM from infringing others' copyrights ... when IBM ships software, it is IBM software, written by people on Sam Palmisano's payroll. Friends and relatives cannot be allowed to help.

It employs patent lawyers whose brief is to ensure that IBM has enough patents to preserve IBM's commercial freedom to engage in business; anyone else with a patent needs to be proudly met with a cross-licence agreement, not with a pile of dollars to buy IBM out of a hole.

It employs anti-trust/competition lawyers with a brief to ensure that IBM's prices are high enough that every business is designed to make a profit. To ensure that when a business commoditises, as the Personal Computer business did, then IBM will not drop its prices below break-even and engage in a loss-making business. Lenovo can run that business profitably, and IBM handed it on.

And if you want it differently, you have to ask the US Congress to fix it. They make the public policy laws; the corporations work under their rule.

Now, the scientific/university world is upside-down on all these counts. They develop software to share with all who will take it; see the One Laptop Per Child project. Not sure about patents; but most scientists treat 'published papers and citations' as the currency which will keep them in salaried employment. As for anti-trust, the universities generally attempt to disseminate knowledge; they don't charge market rates for adult education outreach services.

We are now in the position of Linux, OpenOffice.org, and IBM Lotus Notes wiping the floor with the previous IBM solution (OS/2, SmartSuite, and IBM Lotus Notes); whether it also wipes the floor with the office solution from the Pac North West is just a matter of getting the pricing right, and is hanging in the balance. The idea is to cream the profitable business off the top, and leave the competition with the deep-discount stuff.

So where next ? As a knowledge-based economy, we obviously need the innovation and the people from the Universities to be injected into the Corporations.

How to stick it back together again ?

Freddie Moran

Article says it well for all the good things Paul did for IBM Research - a nice summary and read.

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