OLPC, or why you can't copyright ideas

Nicholas Negroponte wants to blame others for his own OLPC failings. This is wrong.

I have to agree with Mike Masnick's contention that Nicholas Negroponte is way off base in arguing that Intel and Microsoft are to blame for the One Laptop Per Child's problems. Whatever Microsoft's problems, a fervent desire to compete is not one of them. Ditto for Intel. According to Masnick:

While the idea behind creating a super cheap, super durable useful computer for children in developing nations is good, Negroponte has always approached the idea as one where only he should be allowed to see that vision through. When other companies decided it might be a good idea and wanted to target that market themselves, Negroponte flipped out and started attacking them for trying to undermine his project.

Absolutely. While I think there are great reasons for OLPC to stick it out with open source, if Negroponte can't see his way to do so competitively with open source, then neither he nor open source deserve to be at the bargaining table.

Negroponte has suggested that he's a visionary, not an operator. In OLPC, he has proved both. He should be grateful that the vision endures, even if his imprint on its execution does not. Perhaps Intel or someone else will pick up the open-source ball where Negroponte dropped it. I, for one, hope so.

But Microsoft and Intel ( or the open-source community, another Negroponte scapegoat ) aren't to blame for OLPC's problems. Negroponte is.

This is why U.S. copyright law doesn't allow authors to copyright ideas. An idea isn't a work of authorship. It's just the start of potential authorship, and in most cases it's by far the easiest part. Ideas are easy. Execution is hard.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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