The Network for Open Scientific Innovation is founded upon the belief, no, the unshakeable certainty, that creativity, love, and intelligence can solve any problem. Recent years have seen technological revolutions in informatics, communications, and the life sciences. Sadly, this rapid progress has not been matched by a revolution in the democratization of scientific problem solving. Instead, legal and economic institutions have not adapted to the realities of a networked society, one in which there are new, exciting possibilities for a “Commons” based approach to economic prosperity.
Unfortunately, Big Business in pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and other biotechnology sectors, continues to operate under antiquated, medieval business models that do not adequately distinguish between the tools of innovation and their products. Alternative approaches, ones that focus on wealth creation, by widely disseminating technologies, rather than wealth accumulation, through excessive reliance on exclusive licensing of proprietary technologies, are sorely needed.
The tools of destruction are massively distributed, cheap, and widely available. Russia’s most successful export, the Kalashnikov Assault Rifle (AK-47) is the most astounding example of “user innovation” of all time. Wounded at the Battle of Bryansk, Mikhail Kalashnikov was inspired to build a weapon to rival those used by the Germans. Combining and borrowing freely from previous designs (not blocked by intellectual property restrictions) Kalashnikov entered his design in a competition, winning after the weapon continued to function despite being subjected to mud, sand, and dust.
Today, the AK-47 kills an estimated 250,000 people each year. More deadly inaggregate than the atomic bomb, this comparatively “low-tech” innovation changed the course of modern warfare and shows the enormous results achieved when individuals are armed with tools. If only the engines of creation were as widely disseminated as the implements of death. Despite a patent acquired by Izhevsk Mechanical Works in 1999 illegalizing production of the weapon by any other than themselves, (perhaps in an attempt to crack down on lost licensing revenues more than 40 years after the weapon entered production), many companies continue to manufacture the weapon without a license, making as many as one million “pirate” copies each year.
This wonderfully efficient disregard of monopoly ensures the flow of guns to conflicts around the world, arming drug lords, governments, criminals, terrorists, and citizens alike for as little as $30 to $120, even cheaper during times of war—less than the cost of a live chicken in some countries! No force, no intellectual property dispute, has ever restrained the application of human ingenuity to killing (the field of aviation advanced only after the US government threatened the monopolist Wright Brothers during WWI). The same cannot be said for access to life saving HIV medicines.
Kalashnikov himself is not a rich man, despite 100 million circulating weapons hedoes not profit from their sale—and yet there was ample incentive to produce the innovation! Today he has successfully franchised his own vodka brand and has no guilt about his most famous invention, nor should he. Ironically, he had always wanted to make agricultural equipment. Technology, even a weapon, does not determine our fate. The human hand with opposable thumb, itself an “innovation” of natural selection, can be open, extended to reach out and help, or closed, clenched into a fist to smash.
The AK-47 “democratized” warfare, changing old definitions of battlefieldsuperiority, enabling anyone with a little training, (even a child), to be a soldier. Symbol of guerillas and rebels everywhere, the AK-47 adorns the flag and currency of several countries, featuring prominently on the coat of arms of Mozambique. To many, it evokes a romanticized notion of the “freedom fighter.”
But the “price of freedom does not have to be blood, it can be sweat,” the exhilarating thrill of creative exertion. These words are borrowed from a great champion of the Commons, Governor Walter Hickel of Alaska, a man who, in his struggles to pioneer a new model of governance in the far North, foresaw the potential of a global Commons decades before the rise of the internet has enabled his vision to become reality. A conservationist, and pragmatic idealist, he did not coin the now clichéd slogan, “save the whales,” but literally did so during the 1970s. At the dawn of the 21st century, mankind stands poised to conquer its oldest enemies—poverty, disease, and the most dire threat of all—its own drive to self-destruction. We can and must succeed. This is no utopian dream, but a tragically unrecognized, unappreciated, and until now, unheralded opportunity to improve the human condition. The obstacle is never technological, but sociological. Pessimism is unwarranted, unnecessary, and utterly unacceptable. People are not the problem, they are the solution.
There is no scarcity—pessimists focus on the finite nature of certain nonrenewable resources rather than the infinite nature of our imagination, a capacity that knows no limitation, save those limits we stupidly set for ourselves, clinging to old paradigms that no longer make sense. As long as we do not run out of imagination, we will not run out of anything.
Recognizing that people are creative beings, intrinsically motivated to exercise their capacities to solve problems, has profound implications for how we should (re)organize our society and economy. A movement has begun—Peer2Peer, Open Source, Peer Production, “Prosuming,” “Wikinomics,” “Capitalism 3.0″ Call it what you will. In the computer programming/information technology sectors, the organizational model that has come to be known as “Open Source,” has attracted worldwide attention, but this is merely one dramatic, successful example of a paradigm called “user-driven-innovation.” Across all spheres of the economy, individuals are waking up, reaching out, harnessing the vast collaborative powers of networked technologies. No longer content to be passive consumers of mass products, people are challenging the distinction between amateur (one who does for love) and professional (one who works for money), tearing down the hierarchies and barriers to entry erected by the gatekeepers, the “clergy” who control who can succeed in the game of life.
This is not communism, but the proper stewardship of our global information,scientific, and resource Commons. It is a networked global community of minds accessing and generating boundless information, enabling individuals to excel. It is not socialism, but an Open Society where members learn from one another in an iterative process, without fear of persecution and prosecution for simply doing what we’ve always had the freedom to do—tinker, create, innovate. With the 2008 theme of the World Economic Forum at Davos being “collaborative innovation,” and the publication of Wikinomics aimed at a business audience, these ideas are finally reaching the mainstream. Yet few fully appreciate the radical, democratizing power of this model. It is not the same as “crowd-sourcing” or using distributed labor to solve your problem and then exploiting the technology in the usual, exclusive manner. Instead, the essence is a fundamentally different approach to technology development—one in which all players are guaranteed the Freedom and Capability to use core technologies. Only when this right of Technology Freedom is secured for all who wish to participate in the innovation process, will we see dramatic improvements in the way we heal, feed, and fuel this world.
This “manifesto” contains a number of inspirational proverbs. These are great,but ultimately inadequate in the absence of appropriate action. To cite another of our favorites, this time from Margaret Mead, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” One only has to look at the 9/11 hijackers to understand what powerful, disproportionate effects an intensely motivated group can have.
We are rapidly approaching the point where it has to be everybody or nobody. Itis no exaggeration to say that not only the future viability of the “knowledge” economy, but global security itself depends on widespread adoption of user-innovation and Open Source governance mechanisms. With global risks such as climate change, with the emerging fields of synthetic biology and advanced nanotechnology, we cannot continue to repeat the mistakes of past centuries. Without a new global political economy of innovation, the consequences of secrecy, proprietary models, and “closed system” thinking, are potentially catastrophic. The impulse to control, the desire to exclude, the compulsion to hoard, accumulate, and acquire—these urges are relics of a vicious evolutionary past; their persistence inflicts horrific harm in our current era of abundance.
We are not here on this earth merely to be users, to exploit one another and our environment. You do not have to believe we are made in the image of a Creator, to understand that we are here to create.
What about intellectual property? It does not exist. In the words of RichardStallman, this confusing term is a “seductive mirage.. [that conflates] three separate and different entities involving three separate and different sets of laws.” Currently, life saving scientific innovations must navigate a labyrinthine patent system that struggles to adapt to the fast pace of technological change. Patents are a means to an end, not ends in themselves. The history of technology shows that they are only one piece, if sometimes a critical one, in the innovation cycle, all too often functioning as an obstacle, not an enabler, of progress.
Open Source and related approaches don’t disregard property laws, but utilize a form of property to govern a “protected commons” in information based goods. With physical resources, collective governance of common resources such as forests and fisheries ensures development by striking a balance that avoids the twin pitfalls of neglect (if none can claim a return, who will invest?) and exploitation (if corporate excess reins unchecked the resource will be depleted). Similarly, collective action strategies, in the form of patent pools, public private partnerships, and institutional consortia, designed to license enabling technology platforms broadly and nonexclusively, to all who wish to participate in solving mankind’s problems, can burst through R&D bottlenecks, hack through “patent thickets,” and liberate “chokepoints” that strangle the flow of innovation.
The proper purpose of property laws is to PROTECT, not Control. In the current environment, in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to entertainment, companies use patents and copyrights not simply to protect their products, but to assert an exceptional control over the use of technology. The nature of intellectual property laws—they are government sanctioned, one size fits all, monopoly mechanisms—allows companies to enforce behaviors on their customers and control consumers in a way that would be impossible under regular free market conditions—where consumers would purchase from a competitor rather than sign away basic freedoms in a terms of sale contract. There is no parallel in physical property. The only legitimate use of force is to protect, for self-defense. In other cases, we call it domination, aggression, assault, murder. Today, when it comes to “IP,” this type of legalized coercion is called business as usual.
As the founding masters of political economy such as Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill understood, there has always been a vital link between liberty and prosperity, between the freedom of a people, and their economic well-being. Many groups are concerned about the failings of the global innovation system, but instead of effectively focusing on the underlying structural flaws, they are fragmented, coalescing to fight on a case by case basis (access to HIV medicines, the Politics of Stem Cells). Freedom is something that everyone understands and, as history attests, everyone will fight for. Technology Freedom is the great battle of our time.
To cite just one area, embryonic stem cell research promises to make the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. Despite this potential of biblical proportions, the science of stem cells is under siege, both by religious fundamentalists on the right (the Religious Wrong), who conflate embryo-derived cures with abortion, and by ostensibly pro-research institutions, such as WARF, whose short-sighted, aggressive use of its key patents further retards the development of a robust stem-cell therapeutics industry. Under tremendous pressure from the scientific community, WARF was forced to liberalize its patent licensing policy, and ultimately a legal challenge overturned key patent claims, freeing research from onerous limitations. When the stakes are high enough, patents are not allowed to stand in the way; innovation will proceed in spite of them, not because of them. If enough money is on the table, a treatment will finally make it to market—ironically resembling what would happen under the types of approaches we advocate—broad, nonexclusive licensing. Imagine the efficiency gains if we set out to do this from the beginning, instead of being forced to it after years of fighting. It is essential to think clearly about the effects of patents on innovation and to overturn the unsophisticated assumption that exclusivity is the gold standard that transforms a business with one asset, its patent, into a thriving enterprise that offers real goods and services. No, the results are in, and this alchemy is just that.
The Network for Open Scientific Innovation brings together the world’s leadingexperts on patents not to contribute more fuel to the fire that is the protracted, perpetual, and self-sustaining academic debate about patent policy. Instead we seek concrete solutions to urgent problems. In the words of Buckminster Fuller, “you never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” We welcome dialogue and participation with industry, relying on an emerging generation of leaders and entrepreneurs to collaboratively co-develop the Commons. We seek those who understand that there is no inherent contradiction between doing well and doing good, between self-interest, private profits, and the commonwealth, the public good. We seek those who understand that this vision is not too good to be true, but too good to be false. Do we seek “visionaries?” It is a sad testament to these times that one would be labeled a visionary (or worse!) for seeing the truths that any open mind can perceive.
Join us to Open Science and put it to work for 100% of humanity, to rewrite therules of this senseless, unsustainable, and unstable 0-sum game, end the pain inflicted by a system that arbitrarily stipulates that many must lose so that a few can win. Together, the citizens of the world can share in a vast explosion of new types and levels of wealth that will surpass the fantasies of even the greediest sultans, pharos, and monopolists of ages past. Join us in the elimination of the greatest of evils, the imposition of artificial scarcity. Join us, and what alone might seem inconceivable, will be believable, become achievable, and then inevitable.
 http://www.capitolhillblue.com/news2/2006/11/the_ak47_a_real.html The AK-47: A Real Weapon of Mass Destruction. November 26th, 2006.
 http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,288456,00.html AK-47 Inventor Doesn’t Lose Sleep Over Havoc Wrought With His Invention Friday, July 06, 2007
 The AK-47: The World’s Favourite Killing Machine.” ControlArms Briefing Note. Internet, available from http://www.controlarms.org/find_out_more/reports/AK_47.pdf
 Walter Hickel, Crisis in the Commons: The Alaska Solution, p 251. ICS Press. Oakland, California 2002.
 Crisis in the Commons p 241.
 Adapted from Crisis in the Commons p 27 and 239
 Ibid 239
 Adapted from Crisis in the Commons p. 253