ctromley’s Techdirt Profile


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  • Feb 17th, 2011 @ 3:35pm

    Are patents intrinsically bad?

    Did anyone notice that Mei is not calling for an end to patents? Read the quotes again. There are many ideological extremists involved in this issue, giving the impression there are only two solutions: all ideas should be free, or I should have exculsive ownership of my ideas. I don't think Mei is one of those extremists.

    There is value in patents. There are plenty of good ideas that never get launched because of the risk in developing them. Patent protection can INCREASE innovation. But get too heavy-handed with it and it can decrease innovation.

    Sorry if that fact doesn't exude the clarity some seek on the issue of patents. Now if you want to talk about innovation, that's different. Patents can be a useful tool for innovation, if properly used. When can we have a discussion about that?

  • Dec 10th, 2010 @ 9:35am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Casual about it? Wikileaks thoroughly vets every single document it leaks to make sure that no one is put in any danger."

    Others seem to disagree on whether they're thorough enough, or even if it matters. This story seems to indicate people are getting hurt as a direct result of the leaks:

    http://hotair.com/archives/2010/08/02/report-taliban-seeking-revenge-against-informants-af ter-wikileaks-doc-dump/

  • Dec 10th, 2010 @ 8:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "I really can't see how anyone can defend a policy of exerting government pressure in a foreign country to cover up the murder of a journalist is a good thing, in any way at all."

    Of course no one condones that. Murder is bad. We get it. That stuff should definitely be exposed.

    "If some good deeds are undone, if some international good will is trashed, it is *worth it* if such corruption is unearthed and aired in front of the public."

    Is it "worth it" even if someone dies trying to do the right thing? Hypothetical case: Let's say the DEA, CIA and State Dept. collaborate with the Bolivian government to finally take down a large drug cartel. Maybe some official had to be bribed to make it happen. Are you saying it's OK to leak those secrets and put our best special ops guys in jeopardy? To allow the flow of drugs to continue, with all the destruction that causes just because soemone took a bribe and all secrets must be bad?

    Do you really think the leakers know enough of any story to be certain they aren't causing more harm than they know?

    All I'm saying is that openness is truly a good thing - but you'd better be damn sure you aren't hurting anyone when you leak secrets. Wikileaks seems pretty casual about it. Those who advocate a secretless society had better step up and take responsibility when it turns bad. But that's not likely to happen when people are so wrapped up in their own self-righteousness.

    Has anyone thought to get someone experienced in international diplomacy to weigh in on this? Seems like there are a lot of keyboard-pounders opining on it, but no one with real field experience. I wonder how many cases there are of real diplomatic progress being trashed by leaks.

  • Dec 10th, 2010 @ 6:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "By contrast, the keeping of secrets in international diplomacy is leading, directly, to deaths, mistreatment of prisoners, and overall corruption."

    Why do so many insist on adhering to this ridiculous oversimplification? Secrets can serve evil. They can also serve good. Secrets are not inherently good or evil on their own. It all depends on how you use them.

    You've heard the saying about never wrestling with a pig because you'll both get dirty and the pig likes it? Take it a step further. If the pig means you harm, sometimes there is no choice but to get dirty and wrestle with the pig to defend yourself.

    Pristine concepts are wonderful as an ideal. But the real world is not pristine. It never will be. Ideals must ALWAYS be adjusted to fit the real world. It is possible to keep secrets and do the right thing. In some (probably few) ways keeping secrets is *absolutely necessary* to to do the right thing.

  • Dec 10th, 2010 @ 4:40am

    Re: ClosedLeaks

    I agree with everything you say. The huge problem with it though, is that it's incredibly one-sided. Things ain't that simple.

    Surely secrets can be bad things. However in the fields of politics, the military and international diplomacy secrecy and 'ethical flexibility' are the order of the day. That's what you get when people and countries act in their own interests with little concern for others'.

    Not everyone working in these fields is evil. Some are trying very hard to counter the evil. But they can only do it by working within those ugly environments that already exist. There are too many instances where taking the high road guarantees you lose. When playing a strategy game with your friends you don't announce your strategy and hope to win.

    Wikileaks' mistake was releasing information that put the lives of the good guys at risk. Some of that was obvious and they did it anyway. I'm sure other damage was done by releasing info that Wikileaks couldn't see as compromising, but the bad guys will.

    Come on, people. Are we really that simple-minded? If you can't grow up, at least try to see some obvious shades of gray. Being a hero is a lot harder than it looks in the comic books. If you try to apply comic book justice to the real world, good people get hurt.

    Openness is a wonderful thing. Just do it right, or don't do it.

  • Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:16am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "It doesn't work that way and you know it, or do you?"

    Actually, in my experience it does work that way. Time and again. Frankly I'm a little disturbed at how I continue to go around this issue with all of you and neither side can see the other's point of view. Maybe it's because (speaking in broad strokes here) bloggers and digital guys routinely recycle others' ideas using little more than a keyboard. Whereas I have had to ensure no laws of nature are violated, create prototypes, test, make sure the product is safe, get capital outlays approved, etc. etc.

    Maybe it has to do with our definition of innovation. Getting back to the original subject, I wonder if "innovation" in the case of US Messenger Bag is nothing more than a different look to the product, or maybe a new flap or pocket - basically a fashion change with a little function thrown in. In which case it requires no more than a stylist/marketing effort and a few material and machine programming changes to implement. If true, coming out with a new style frequently is no big deal.

    When I speak of innovation I mean making possible that which was not possible before. Are we really saying there is no value in bringing something truly new to market? Do we really believe that companies with the resources to innovate don't fully evaluate the profitability of a venture before starting? That if they know profits will be lower without protection from immitators, all projects will still make it to consumers? Seriously?

    This discussion has too much of a tone of mindless idealogical extremism. The needle on my BS detector is in the yellow zone. Everyone but me is talking in terms of broad principles. Who here actually makes a living by innovating? You know, nuts, bolts, dollars, cents, markets, ROI? Not just turning the crank on old ideas?

    Small-scale charitable behavior is a beautiful thing. But where the numbers are big, the numbers will be favorable, or innovation won't happen. Ignorance is bliss. You can't miss innovations you never see.

  • Dec 8th, 2010 @ 9:22am

    Re: Re: All good and well

    "So what about large scale open source software operations such as Linux, Open Office, or Joomla?"

    Good point, which emphasizes my comment about digital innovation, or other areas where innvation requires few resources. Open source projects are a fine example of people doing good for its own sake. But it works for open source only because you can get a distributed swarm of people to collaborate farily easily. Again, it all comes down to the effort and risk needed for a result.

    I'm an ME. Once I donated time to an EE heading a new product development team. In his prior experience any incremental failures on the path to success could be fixed with a new board layout, new code, etc. He quickly learned that mistakes in the high tech hardware world can mean months of delay and many $1000s of scrap. He summed up this new perspective in his comment, "Y'know, you MEs have the worst editor ever...." Some innovations are easier than others.

    What do you want your innovation to achieve, what will it take to make it happen, and will you be able to give a proper return to your investors before some Asian sweatshop with no creative talent rips it off? In some fields of endeavor, innovation will only happen if those questions have a favorable answer.

    Perhaps the goal is to change how those 'antiquated' fields of endeavor operate? If so, how?

  • Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:44am

    Re: Re: "creating a market niche"????

    "Really? Please elaborate on how one "creates" a market niche."

    I have worked for two companies who didn't just create market niches but entire markets - i.e. it was not possible to get anything like what they made until they made it. That's innovation. In the world of high tech products innovation doesn't happen unless it's a profitable venture. The whole "ideas should be free" concept may carry some weight in the digital world, but be very careful about applying that approach to expensive hardware.

    I am all for working for the benefit of all mankind, but I have to make a living too. I do understand there will always be tension between pirates and innovators. Just understand that there is a balance to be struck, and that balance changes with the amount of resources needed and risk involved for the innovation in question.

    So far no one has countered my primary point: If you remove the incentive for people to innovate, you get less innovation. Of course innovation doesn't stop entirely. But if immitators are completely unrestrained we'll never know what could have been. Immitation has a cost. We just don't know what it is.

  • Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Sounds to me like you are a just another coin operated person."

    Perhaps. Or maybe you are yet another person who does not understand the struggle and risk of implementing innovation. Do it. Then you're qualified to talk about it.

  • Dec 8th, 2010 @ 7:14am

    Re: Re:

    addendum: I personally have a product concept that could be developed in just a few months, that could deliver on much of the promise the Segway failed to meet, at a much lower price. The reason I never pursued it is that months after hitting the market there would be several Chinese copies. Guaranteed. Why invest money, time and creativity if you can't reap the benefits?

  • Dec 8th, 2010 @ 7:03am


    You can think of immitation as competition, or you can think of it as legal theft. Doesn't matter. The point is, if you let the immitators get free use of the innovators' creativity, skills, blood sweat & tears, you get fewer innovators. Why should I put in the hard work if others will simply lift it and profit from it?

  • Dec 8th, 2010 @ 4:09am

    Innovation is hard. Immitation is easy.

    I always get a kick out of the blathering bloggers who say "just keep innovating." Try picking up a wrench, stepping into a lab or creating a new market niche on your own. Speaking as a product development engineer near the end of a long career (and, ironically, unemployed) I can tell you with certainty that innovation is very hard. Only the best can do it, and only when conditions are right. Immitation, on the other hand, reaps all the benefits of that hard work, money, countless hours, anxiety and many more devastating failures than you know, at no cost. At what point do a large proportion of the innovators finally say "Screw it"? We'll never know, because they would produce innovations we'll never see. I know first hand the loss is huge and growing. If you disagree, put the damn computer away and go create something truly new. Then come back and we'll discuss. Not for long though, otherwise someone without your skills will rip you off and you'll have to go through the whole process again just to stay afloat. Or maybe you'll just say "Screw it, it's easier to tell others to innovate."