So why isn’t there a commons for ideas? Why isn’t there a trust system, a social contract for sharing ideas in the same way that Open Source creates a safe environment for sharing code? For example, if I came up with a useful workshop facilitation methodology, I would share it. However, if I knew that I was likely to be given credit anytime anyone used it, I would probably share more enthusiastically and maybe even put more effort into polishing the methodology for use by others.

Why can’t we open license ideas in the same way that we license software, photos, or blog entries under a Creative Commons or GPL license? I don’t need to get paid and I am only too happy when people use my ideas (rare as they are) but it would add an extra incentive if I knew I was likely to get credit for thinking them up.

Is it not conceivable to create a social mechanism to achieve this? I titled the blog “Open Patents” but perhaps it would be even better to call it an “Open Concept”. And while the idea is inspired by the Creative Commons license, it might be better to call it a “social contract” in order to avoid the sense that there may be a litigious aspect to the idea. (Thanks to Mark Surman for pointing out the wrong flavour of the word “license” in this context). There could be an informal wikipedia-like resource for registering an Open Concept in a shared, public space but it needn’t even be that formal. A blog post or web page might be sufficient. You could use the Way Back Machine to establish prior art.

Naturally there would be disputes and in the “standing on the shoulders of giants” nature of knowledge there would be a lot of cross-linking of Open Concepts but if the debates were over who gets intellectual credit not who gets paid, then hopefully dispute resolution might be handled in a relatively non-litigious manne

Facilitating Innovation

A perfect candidate for OpenConcept is Allen (Gunner) Gunn’s SpeedGeek facilitation process. A great concept that he and Aspiration have shared widely. That is largely because of the Open Source kind of guy that Gunner is. Others in a similar position might be tempted but worried that they might not get credit if they share. An Open Concept License could tip them over the edge. I think this would encourage people to “release early and release often” their ideas.

Also, if one were to introduce a kind of genealogy of Open Concepts, one might increase the likelihood of tinkering that leads to innovation. If there were a place where you could see Gunner’s SpeedGeek concept but also see how he tinkered with the concept of SpeedDating to get there, you double the opportunities for tinkering innovation. Someone might riff on Gunner’s idea or they might see a different direction to take the original SpeedDating concept. Seeing how innovation evolves leads to more innovation

Which leads me to my next point.

How to represent and store Open Concepts

It may be that the software already exists for managing an ecology of Open Concepts. Genealogy software. Genealogy software could provide the notion of inheritance, siblings, and offspring which would ideally suit a representation of Open Concepts. Of course you would need to adapt the software to have just one or in fact many parents but perhaps modern life has already made genealogy software adapt to these possibilities. You would have to make it wiki-like to facilitate an open and consensus driven approach. You could allow for people to “vouch” for the originality of others ideas and have an Ebay-style rating of authenticity/reliability.

Finally, if this were really successful and well-established, could it not provide a resource of “prior art” that might help to inoculate patent systems against bad patents?

So, is this a dumb idea? Unworkable? Am I missing something? Set me straight somebody.

This blog post represents an OpenConcept, Attribution, Share-alike 🙂

Posted by Steve Song

@stevesong local telco policy activist. social entrepreneur. founder of @villagetelco #africa #telecoms #opensource #privacy #wireless #spectrum #data