Defending freedom to innovate

​The freedom to innovate underlies open source, open standards, open data and more globally, open knowledge. It is one of the most fundamental liberties on which our new digital, interconnected, meshed society is currently developing.

Whereas nothing endures but change, our society tends to inexorably forget about it, and behave as if things would always stay the same. Only one way out though : adapt or die. Find a way to deal with changes, or disappear, just as former, and yet quite advanced civilisations did before us.

How to adapt ? By solving problems one by one and doing so, improving the existing. Taking things as they are and introducing new elements that somehow, will make the difference in a positive way. We call that “innovating” – from its Latin origin ‘innovare’ which means ‘renewing’. Innovation is indeed at the heart of how to adapt to changes. Progress is necessary and shall remain, as such, on top of priorities. We need innovation to survive, and move on towards a better life.

The current system does raise some concerns though, since you can nowadays not simply take things as they are to improve them. Creativity is indeed highly controlled by so called Intellectual Property mechanisms to make sure a bunch of happy few corporations and wealthy intermediaries get all the economical benefit it might incidentally generate. Because yes, innovation does generate profits, our society tends to mix up indicators, natural consequences of a healthy order of things, with the initial purpose of what innovation originally stands for, namely finding solutions to problems life throws on our path.

With such model, a full category of innovators are put aside. All of those who lack resources – either financial or human – to go through those control points that the system has artificially created to protect financial investment – assuming the latter is the condition to innovation.

This situation is concerning, and even more while facing a global crisis : we are indeed currently not anymore in a position to allow discrimination among innovators. Quite the opposite in fact : we are in such a hurry to find solutions that we absolutely need to involve as many people as possible to work on how to adapt to current challenges – not to say emergencies – from social, environmental and economical perspectives, which are the three pillars for sustainable development.

“Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterised quickly and the fix obvious to someone” – lesson number 8 of Eric Raymond in the Cathedral and the Bazaar. Sounds basic and does not only apply to software development : the more there will be people working on an issue, the more chance we will get to have it fixed. Every single mind can thus make the difference. Innovative people shall not be set aside.

In order to stop discrimination among innovators, what we need to do today is to proclaim the freedom to innovate. The freedom for anyone to take an interest in a given concern, study what has been done so far and improve it, without going through a complicated process aimed at eliminating he who does not have a large wallet. Also, “keep in mind that imagination is at the heart of all innovation”, as physician Albert-Laszlo Barabási highlighted : “crush or constrain it and the fun will vanish.”

The possibilities for innovation have become limitless.  In a world in constant changes, and to face tomorrow’s growing challenges, it is essential to enhance our digital society together with the freedom to innovate so that each and any one can freely share solutions to existing problems – and doing so, help building a better world.​

Key policies for a healthy IT market

[ Article transferred from my old wiki ]

Despite the growing dependence on software in our everyday life, digital policies seem to remain quite obscure for most of people. A sufficient reason to remind here the keys to a healthy IT market – on which our information infrastructure and thus, our daily communications now rely.

» No software patent

Patent law was created as a counterpart for the costs invested in developing “technical solutions to technical problems”. Besides the fact that the software industry costs are of a completely different range, there is nothing technical in a software – not more than in a music score or a mathematical reasoning. A software is a set of instructions and data aimed at being executed by a machine. Software patents are dangerous as they create ownership rights on trivial processes. Programmers shall not have to worry about infringing a patent while developing pieces of codes. This leads to hindering software innovation, already sufficiently protected by copyright, antitrust and contract laws. Practices consisting in delivering software patents shall be stopped.

» No DRM in copyright law

Whereas copyright law shall definitely apply to software, and I include here open source licenses, the decision to include DRM among the subject matters was a complete mistake. A DRM is a digital restriction measure aimed at restricting access to related content. It is not because someone decides to add one to a content that the latter satisfies the legal criterias such as originality or creativity of the work. Worse, it prevents users from exercising legal exceptions to copyright, such as for interoperability or research purposes – in addition to eventually violating their privacy. A complete reform of the copyright system must be undertaken.

» Free and open standards

Data needs to circulate freely within the information infrastructure so that users are not locked in with one single editor. This is what we call interoperability, which allows us to read a same document using different software. In that extent we need free and open standards so that various actors can access and implement the latters on royalty-free basis to develop their products. This supposes neither patent nor any copyright restriction whatsoever, and is thus in contradiction with any “fair, reasonable and non discriminatory” model (FRAND) that would impose the payment of royalties. Free and open digital standards shall be enforced in all standardization bodies.

» Non discriminatory procurement

In addition of being strictly forbidden by contracting rules, favoring a brand in public procurement leads to excluding innovative companies from the market and maintaining propriatory, non standardized software in administrative bodies. This, at the expense of governments themselves, who collaterally abdicate their control over IT budget and security. In spite of common sense, public administrations continue playing a major role in sustaining monopolies through discriminatory calls for tenders. Transparency in public affairs is not only an option anymore. State’s infringement to contracting rules must be condemned.

» A ban on tied sales

Tied sales happen when a customer is forced to buy another product together with the one he actually needs. This raises the cost for the latter, and discourages him for searching for an alternative of the imposed product, excluding companies who could potentially offers competitive solutions. The legislation shall allow the customer to buy the products separately and give a chance to innovative competitors.

» Net neutrality

Internet shall remain an area where freedom of speech and communication prevail. If ever certain persons use it for inappropriate behaviours, such behaviours shall be condemned in accordance with the law on case by case basis. The web as for itself shall stand free from any censorship whatsoever. Unfortunatelly, some service providers tend to favor certain editors an block access to other’s content based on commercial interests. Such practices are not acceptable and must be forbidden by the law once and for all.

If there was one word to associate with a healthy software industry, it would be OPENNESS.

Openness is essential when it comes to talk about software. Why ? Because software, such as mathematics, such as sciences, shall not be locked – or else, we are the ones who will end up locked in. Our society needs to build up around software. Not to be built by it.

I will come back to you shortly with explanations on open data and open source.