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Linus on Patents, Innovation . . . and Groklaw
Wednesday, August 18 2004 @ 02:19 PM EDT

BusinessWeek has done an interview with Linus you won't want to miss. He talks about how he structures everything, or watches structure evolve. It's fascinating, to me especially, because actually I didn't really know how to run Groklaw when thousands of volunteers suddenly showed up. There is no manual when you are the first person to try something, and who do you ask? I had only the general open source model as a star to guide me.

It's been very much an experiment, so it's nice to learn that his structure is kind of like I see developing here, with certain differences built in due to the different nature of the finished work. Anyway, it's a very intriguing interview to me, and I think you'll enjoy reading it, maybe from your own perspective.

Linus talks about the open source method for developing software and says when problems get serious enough, you can't have one individual or one company hording all the knowledge, that open source is a better way to do software, and that sharing knowledge results in more stable software.

He also says the one thing that worries him isn't that Linux has legal problems, but that some greedy companies -- and you know who you are -- might decide to game the system, now that Linux is so successful, and like the rest of us, software patents are a concern to him:

"The only things I worry about are all the things that go around the project. Part of it is legal issues.
It's not that I think Linux has legal problems, but that the system doesn't work as well as it should,
and crazy things happen, like the SCO suits . . . .

"Software patents concern me. I worry about some greedy companies -- possibly failing ones,
trying to make trouble and abusing the system. Software patents, in particular, are very ripe for
abuse. The whole system encourages big corporations getting thousands and thousands of patents.
Individuals almost never get them."

He doesn't think Microsoft will use patents against Linux, because he says he thinks they'd be ashamed. You need to read the whole interview, to really get the full flavor.

He also answers a FUD question: is open source a threat to US leadership in innovation? Here's a master at work:

"Q: The U.S. has long been a leader in information-technology innovation. Is open source a threat to its national competitiveness?

"A: Open source is a tool anybody can use to innovate. It's a tool the U.S. can use or other countries can use. If you want to keep on the forefront of technology, you have to take advantage of the most powerful tools, and open source is one of them. Other countries will take full advantage of open source, and it allows them to innovate and leave the U.S. behind -- if it doesn't innovate, too."

But my favorite thing he said was this, about Groklaw:

"Q: How applicable are open-source methods outside of software? Is the nature of software and the culture in which it has developed unique in business? Or are other kinds of businesses or creative endeavors using some of the same methods?

"A: I think the method is the scientific method. The open-source people use it for software. So, engineering and science are all about the open-source method. It's mainly about knowledge and information. You can spread it without losing it yourself. Groklaw.com is the open-source mentality applied to legal research."

Sometimes people write to me and ask about doing a Groklaw T-shirt. Groklaw is a noncommercial site, so I can't sell T-shirts, but I usually give individuals who ask for permission my OK to do it just for themselves. And now, when they ask me what I'd like it to say, here's my answer:

"Groklaw is the open-source mentality applied to legal research" ~ Linus Torvalds

SCO may not get it, and that's fine. Heaven only knows their keynote speaker missed the boat. But it's satisfying to know that Linus understands exactly what we are trying to do here.


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