From Gridlock to Double Nelson

In “The Boy Who Invented the Bubble Gun: an Odyssey of Innocence“, yet another magical book by Paul Gallico, a nine year old boy invents a toy gun that shoots bubbles – but no one cares about him or his invention, not even his dad. The boy then decides to run away from home, and boards a Greyhound bus to Washington DC, in order to register a patent on his invention. On the bus he meets a motley bunch of cameos: a Russian spy, two star-crossed young lovers, and a dangerous killer, the boy also learns to live with the fact that the world is neither kind nor fair. As it happens in other Gallico books, the boy pays for his successful passage from childhood to adulthood with his innocence -and his invention.

An article in the February issue of NEWSWEEK carries a collection of Gallico’esque case studies – stories about the way powerful bodies lock intellectual property behind thick, unfriendly walls of registered patents. This, in fact, keeps patented discoveries out of bound and beyond reach to inventors, who could otherwise use them to the benefit of us all. Michael Heller, who wrote the article, sees this phenomenon as a de-facto Innovation Gridlock -“[t]oday most innovation in high-technology fields -banking, nanotech, semiconductors, software, telecom-demand the assembly of innumerable patents or intellectual property” says Heller, “[n]ext-generation wireless broadband requires many broadcast-spectrum licenses. Cutting-edge art and music depend on mashing up and remixing fragments of separately copyrighted culture. Even the current financial crisis is partly the product of intellectual gridlock. Mortgages have been pooled, sliced and securitized to the point that thousands of dispersed owners can block restructuring of the underlying debts. The story is the same across the wealth-creation frontier: lost opportunities, lost inventions, lost lives.”

Heller – the Lawrence A. Wien Professor of Real Estate Law at Columbia Law School is a specialist on property. In his book Gridlock Economy he presents what is now widely known as Heller’s Paradox: while normally private ownership is a positive factor in wealth creation, when physical or intellectual property is shared by too many people, cooperation stops, wealth creation stalls and nobody wins.  His book (read excerpts here, get the book here), showcases powerful gridlocks, such as the pharmaceutical  company team that found what looks like treatment for Alzheimer’s disease but were unable to do anything about their discovery because the drug is made of “dozens of patents. Any single patent owner could demand a huge payoff; some blocked the whole deal“, or the US airspace – totally and hopelessly clogged-up because property owners refuse to sell the land required in order to build the “[t]wenty-?ve new runways at our busiest airports [that] would end most routine air travel delays in America.”

Heller’s case is compelling – and scary.  Gridlock Economy is here to stay – it would grow increasingly oppressive, less flexible, locking us all out of innovation in the name of the right to intellectual (and other) property protection. At the same time, Heller notes that a “survey sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences found that scientists now routinely respond to gridlock by becoming patent pirates, just like students who illegally download music.”  While pirating is definitely neither sane nor legal – I can understand the frustration behind this radical action.

As I was writing this, I read a piece by ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley  that demonstrates another type of gridlock: “Microsoft’s latest Windows deployment guidance for business users has morphed from the overly simplistic “Don’t wait for Windows 7″ [to] the bottom-line message [that] whether you decide to go with Vista or wait for Windows 7 is less important than getting off Windows XP.”  The fact is, Foley says, that “an estimated 71 percent of business PCs are still running XP, Microsoft’s advice to upgrade from XP isn’t overly surprising. The biggest competitor to Vista and/or Windows 7 isn’t Linux or Mac OS X; it’s XP.”  

Shakespeare’s Sentinel Marcellus couldn’t put it better “Something” he says “is rotten in the state of Denmark.” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4) Can’t you smell it from here? Foley lists a Microsoft’s checklist for business customers who are planning the future of their Operating System. The [edited] headers speak for themselves –

  • If you are running Windows 2000 in your environment: Migrate your Windows 2000 PCs to Windows Vista as soon as possible…
  • If you are in the process of planning or deploying Windows Vista: Continue your Windows Vista SP1 deployment.
  • If you are on Windows XP now and are undecided about which OS to move to: Make sure you (sic.) taken into consideration the risk of skipping Windows Vista […] know that deploying Windows Vista now will make the future transition to Windows 7 easier
  • If you are on Windows XP now and are waiting for Windows 7: Make sure you take into consideration the risks of skipping Windows Vista, and plan on starting an early evaluation of Windows 7 for your company using the beta that’s available now.

Microsoft wants you to move to Vista now – irrespective of the fact that the Vista is underperforming globally.  Then, you are expected to migrate yet again, this time to Windows 7.  Your needs and fears, expectations and requirements do not form a part in this forced migratory process – money does, and only MS money. Remember that sometime ago Microsoft reported declining revenues and a layoff of 5000 employees – here, in true muscle box fashion, is how the Redmondites plan to make up the short fall.  “I’ve crunched the numbers,” says Ed Bott – another ZDNet blogger, “and my rough calculations suggest that this realignment could be worth hundreds of millions, and perhaps billions of dollars in new revenue for Microsoft, even if PC sales remain flat.”

The Microsoft strategy is more of a Double Nelson than a Gridlock.  Based on our docile acceptance of their shticks over the years, they assume that we will follow their golden path – even at a staggering cost of to our own choices and irrespective of our financial capabilities.  Listen to their language – “If you are on Windows XP now and are waiting for Windows 7: Make sure you take into consideration the risks of skipping Windows Vista” (my emphasis.)  Got it? You’d better fork out for both Operating Systems, mate, unless you are willing to assume unspecified horrific risks to your digital life and limbs.

How about skipping Windows altogether unless they start offering Windows for free?

Contribute to ToingToing!