"Canon patent five ideas a day to help you have hundreds"

I saw this on a poster in The Tube a few days ago. It took me a few minutes (in my unfocussed haze, as is the norm on the tube) to realise that this is a shining example of the battle open source technology faces and precisely the advantage that open sourcing holds for the consumer. This slogan succinctly sums up the attitude held by people who have not encountered or who do not understand open source technology and the ethos behind it.

What the statement is actually saying is :

'Canon spend their time preventing anyone else from using innovative new ideas, however, you are welcome to use them as long as you buy products made by Canon, or licensed by Canon to third parties'.

This is a different thing altogether. IMO, this does the exact opposite of promoting creative freedom. It attempts to channel and shape it by forcing the use of certain tools and technologies and by attaching legal rigmarole to the technologies, preventing the free dispersal and utilisation of them.

A good example of the above is the Macromedia Shockwave Flash (swf) technology. This started out as a proprietary technology and in order to create Flash movies, one had to buy Macromedia Flash, the IDE for developing Flash stuff. Flash quickly became hugely popular. In a flash (sorry, couldn't resist) of genius, Macromedia open sourced the .swf file format and the Flash player. This move released a flood of Flash development, serving and viewing tools and Flash is now a staple of the Internet. The merits of Flash itself are a topic for another, very long wu.

If I was an advertising executive for Canon, I would have never allowed a poster such as this one to be plastered everywhere. While it may be the grim truth of the matter, hiding this grim truth is what advertising executives do isn't it? The poster is certainly not projecting an image of a corporation which could help a creative person reach their artistic zenith. In my mind it projects an image of a narrow-minded and money grabbing monopoly engine. But, hey, that's just me.

Vive la Open Source!

As I understood the advertisement, I saw the issue in a whole other way. What if it was for benefit of open-source? Let me try and explain my reasonings...

The more ideas that are out in the world, the more people will have to improve on it. If there were no patents, then what would we aim to improving? Inovation is driven by inovation. New products encourage new products, its an endless cycle.

Its a clash of worldviews here. One person believes that everything must be open-source, while someone else may disagree. Because you patent an inovation, doesn't mean that you are an evil monopoly. Its how capitalism works.

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