Friday, August 29, 2003

Laser Sailing 

Everything you need to know about the beast boats.
Note they are made in the UK.
The US trademark has been hijacked by Vanguard boats, who does not offer nearly the same range...


Patents as a restriction on innovation 

Contrary to the predominant perceptions, patents (which are a monopoly right conferred by the sovereign) do not serve any useful economic purpose, any more that royal charters to the India Company did foster trade.

A good survey of the question has been written by Pierre DESROCHERS in the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics - Vol 1 N 4 (winter 1998).

These are my views, not Desrochers, but the reader could refer to the article to explore in more depth.

Innovation is an incremental process which moves in small steps, one innovation building on another. A good example is the software industry or mathematics, or physics.

Patents restrict innovation in several ways, the most important being that the patent process restricts the use of innovative steps and biases allocation of capital in the direction of patentable research. Where would be Geometry or Calculus if the Euclid foundation could claim a monopoly on Euclidean Geometry or Cauchy on differentiation?

In the software industry, all major innovations, such as the internet and Linux are unpatented. Of course crooked lawyers like Bill Gates or SCO will always try to stifle innovation by claiming a patent, but as the example of Windows shows, they act as a restraint on trade and generate a monopoly, which slows down innovation. It is interesting to note that Apple's new operating system, OS X, which is vastly superior to Windows, largely builds on UNIX, Cocoa and Darwin, three "open source" platforms developed by academics and by the open source software community of developers.

The current court case where SCO is suing IBM for allegedly using portions of Linux which they claim belong to the SCO UNIX code is a good case in point. It has been shown in depositions that all the code claimed by SCO/UNIX was written by third party developers under the open source (free) licence and the argument of SCO lawyers is quite lame and pathetic (copyright overrides the open source contract license). Such argument was put forward by the BOIES law firm, which specializes in ambulance chasing and clearly does not understand software (they lost their case against Microsoft). So the whole matter of patenting software is just an attempt to restrain trade.

Most of the patents issued and the most enforceable are in chemistry and pharmaceuticals, which explains why pharmaceutical prices are the highest in the US. Given the large number of chemical and pharma students graduating from India and China, one should expect that in 10 to 20 years the current predominance of US pharma firms will be broken. Not without a fight, of course. Indian firms already excel at the production of compounds and generic pharma and gradually they will increase their share of innovations. The US firms will be left defending their aging patents by regressive measures such as extending the life of existing patents or patenting new "delivery systems" (basically different packaging of the same product). But that will not stop them from declining.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Works of Erasmus 

Erasmus (Rotterdam 1467 - Basel 1536) is best known for the "Encomium Moriae" (Praise of Folly) which has been widely traslated and studied. It is a billiant humanistic essay. However there are very few comprehensive collections of Erasmus works which are accessible.
The "collected works of Erasmus" translated in English by RAB Mynors have been published by the University of Toronto Press, but it is a huge collection of volumes (close to twenty) and it is only good for Libraries.
It is especially difficult to find the ADAGES, I mean the complete collection (generally in two volumes) of Latin and Greek proverbs, annotated extensively by Erasmus.
A good anthology of Erasmus work has been published in French: Erasme - Collection Bouquins - Robert Laffont Paris 1992 - edited by: Claude BLum, Andre Godin, JC Margolin and Andre Menager. ISBN 2-221-05916-6 It also includes an excellent chronological table.
One of the most beautiful sermons Erasmus wrote is "de praeparatione ad mortem" - published in 1534. It is included in the french anthology but I could not find it in English!

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Harvard Business Review on Corporate Blogging 

A pretty lame case study is published in the September 2003 issue.
THe most interesting comment is by Ray Ozzie of Groove Networks, who refers to a policy they have established for corporate blogging (see www.groove.net/weblogpolicy)

Roaming account for dialup 

Most dialup providers (like earthlink, or ATT, or even Yahoo) do not provide international roaming. THe only significant global roaming dialup service (or rather consortium) is iPass. However iPass would not open an account with individuals/small businesses. One solution I found, which is reasonable, is Central House, a reseller of iPass services (go to http://www.centralhouse.net/roam.htm). I used it on a recent trip to Europe and Asia and it works great. IT takes a day or so for Central House to confirm your subscription (fax is required), therefore it is best to contact them a few days before leaving. iPass provides a database of local dialups worldwide, which you can access using your central house account and a modem. Speeds in Europe and Asia can be as high as 48k. I still have to see wether one can put the account on dormant status to avoid monthly charges when one is not travelling...

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