I spent too much time and effort at my now defunct company worrying about people stealing my ideas. By the time I was wrapping up Idealistics, I thought about open sourcing the code I paid Github a monthly fee to keep private, all to realize it would have taken a ton of effort to get anyone to care that I was giving my software away for free.
If I had Idealistics to do again, I would have spent my energy spreading my ideas rather than paying to keep them secret.
I think there is a lot of value in being open regardless of the industry one is in, but there certainly is value in openness in the social sector. We’re supposed to be in the business of solving social problems after all.
Given the value of openess, and general rallying cry around nonprofit transparency, I can’t help but wonder why I’ve been coming across so many nonprofits intent on lawyering up to “protect” their intellectual property.
I’ve been doing a lot of contracting work recently. Really interesting stuff, and a bunch of insights that could probably help out a whole slew of social interventions. And I can’t tell you about any of it. I’m contractually obligated not to.
The social sector exists in this weird space between the public and private sector. We run private entities intended for public benefit. In the process we develop proprietary solutions to public problems.
That last sentence makes my head hurt.
We need to make a decision as to what we are, and what we stand for. You can’t have proprietary collective impact. The patent system is designed to allow companies to lock in competitive advantages to singularly reap the benefits of their investments over a period of time. Our investments are supposed to be public. So why the hell are startup social enterprises seeking patents on technological solutions to connect low-income families to social programs? Who benefits from those patents? Certainly not the public. Definitely not the poor.
I’m grateful to be working on an exciting range of contracts. While I’m under contract not to say anything about that work, going forward I’ll certainly be more open about my own ideas, even if I intend to monetize them.
If my ideas are any good, and can actually create real social value, be my guest and help yourself to my ideas.