A Prickly Journey

A reality check is a bitter sweet pill. The sweetness comes from the truth and the bitterness is in the swallowing.

This week I received a letter from an inventor. An inventor who loves the world but sleeps on a couch. When I asked him about collaborating, the response was uncertain: Although he knew that the open source method would bring his invention to people faster, he wanted to be compensated for his work and therefore was going to get a patent. Would we still collaborate with a “closed” business?

Since we agreed that open source method was better for humanity, I responded with ways in which the open source method could also benefit the inventor.

His reply left me with a tough pill to swallow. His father was an open source inventor. He gave the world the Winiarski rocket stove. In return, other organizations received millions of dollars in grants, while he receives little more than social security. And while he does bask in the love of helping thousands, it doesn’t put bread on his table.

His contribution to society is honorable, but how do we take it to the next level, where inventors too are financially honored for their work?

In the conventional invention world, one inventor is the mad scientist, devoting all spare moments and spare change to breathing life into an idea. A patent or investor may alleviate the financial burden, but it may just as likely leave the inventor high and dry. Check out Don Lancaster’s Patent Avoidance Library.
Open source development is meant to distribute the risk. With many people contributing (albeit some more than others) the risk development burden is shared. At Open Source Ecology, we ask people to contribute financially, intellectually, and organizationally. (Feel free to contact us for more info– simply leave a comment below.)

Ask and you shall receive. And if you don’t receive, prepare yourself further, and ask again. I think many people who make great contributions to the world, to their communities, and to their families, forget about themselves. They forget to meet their own basic needs. They fail to ask others for help.

Asking for contributions of any sort is easier today than ever before with the internet. Explain your story. People listen.

But it does require persistence, paperwork, and publicity. Not everyone has the time, energy or skills for this. We hope that through our collaboration efforts, we are able offer an alternative. For example, if an inventor has a very worthwhile product, which he/she invested much time, effort, and resources personally and is reluctant to open source their work (perhaps for very legitimate reasons), than we (the great global we) could decide whether or not to collaboratively fund an effort to “buy out” the inventor to and put the product into the open source domain. This is not the ideal situation. (Open development is ideal.) But ideal isn’t always practical, especially as we are in a time of transition.

We believe that ultimately, people must produce goods. It feels funny to say this when we live in a time that is burdened with “stuff“. But the truth is very few real goods are being produced. We sorely need producers of wholesome, responsible products. That means the inventor, too can be a producer.

Indirectly, the inventor(s) may benefit through publicity. Someone may offer paying work as a result of the inventor(s) open source developments. This method works for some people. But it has no guarantees. This method alone would certainly not pay for a world-class research and development budget, at least not in a timely manner.

One way to solve this conundrum would be an open source product label. This might be used to guarantee to the consumer that a percentage of the price is going back into research and development. A label could guarantee that the product is made justly– similar to a fair trade or organically grown mark. A label would let the consumer know what version of a design they have and who produced it, who designed it, and who changed what in the design.

These are explorations in creating the open source economics of the future. What are your thoughts? What is the best way to neocommercialize? What other challenges must be overcome? What solutions are brewing?

Also, for those who are interested, preliminary designs for the Solar Concentrator are posted on the wiki. Feel free to add your comments and insights.


  1. Dale Brown

    This is a very good commentary and discussion. Worth noting with respect to the notion of survival of the inventor are the odds of inventor success…
    …the enormous obstacles faced by inventors…
    …and the toll it takes on personal and family life…

    Here is a noteworthy quote from legendary inventor Dean Kamen…
    “I’m a risk taker. I get up in the morning knowing that I’m either going to have a spectacular win or loss that is going to be exciting. I prefer the former but either is more appealing than the warm death of mediocrity.”
    Dean Kamen, Inventor of the
    Segway human transporter

  2. Ronny

    “The warm death of mediocrity.”
    So true.

  3. Franz Nahrada


    a fantastic post.

    I am working on this question for years, and I also spotted people that have invested tons of energy, time and money in an idea. One person that agreed years ago that she would like to be “bought out” was Gabi Ender of openspaceonline. I do not know how she thinks today about the issue, but there are useful commercial products which could easily spark a community.

    On the other hand, there are many corporations exploiting the inventive and creative power of people, but privatise the benefit of increasing value.

    The emergence of an international foundation capable to expand and preserve the commons and the cohesion of development communities is overdue. Unfortunately the Oekonux people who really were the first to see the potential of a generalized free modes production are sticking to theory, while I believe there is need for a political and economical strategy.

    Its necessary to involve advocacy organisations like the EFF, the Free Software Foundation, the Peer2Peer Foundation, but its also necessary to include the cooperative movement, the (for example Latin Amrican) states that favor intellectual coperation over intellectual property, small business associations, and so on.

    Is a gigantic historical task. There are many currents in Europe that work on these questions, and there are some ideas like a guaranteed basic income or stipends that circulate around. In my personal opinion this is all wishful thinking, my personal way is to favor neosubsistence as a way to support creative people. Each Global Village should be proud to free and feed at least one inventor!

    Thats why Open Source Ecology in the long run could take a leading role in the movement for supporting creative endavours.

    I follow your work with much attention.

    Franz from Vienna, Austria

  4. John Fraser Beckley

    In the early years of “doing what needs to be done”, developing awareness & staying on a learning curve that was appropriate to the environment was so important that any time a personal mission-related idea or technique was taken, borrowed or stolen, that became a success or advance. Yet over the years people expected things, ideas, techniques/technology to come for free. That left me, at least, without monetary compensation [but certainly rewarded karmically & synchronistically]and worse: listed and treated as a “bottom-feeder or low on the totem-pole” inhabitant not worthy of support because of not having monetary success.
    Personally, I will continue organizing/coordinating individual sovereignty with stand-alone sustainability resourcefulness & the Mission of developing Global EcoVillage as a way to survive future changes. That means not taking everything too personally and being open to invitations & opportunities that fit the greater view & benefit the greater good. Others will hopefully see fit to evolve the “hive mind”, the collective consciousness that will empower say “openfarmtech” to deliver what it says it will deliver: the construction set of Global Village.
    Since i’m just an organizer/coordinator [social innovations like “circle processing” don’t count when they’re actually adaptations or rediscoveries from ancient cultures]it means that i’m putting together pieces drawn from mentors & others who deserve credit if not actual residuals whenever revenues allow for that. I can think of Jacques[?] and his crew at The Venus Project Florida as an example. I see in the paper [Miami Herald] that they are selling their Venus, Fl property. So there is someone i would want to see “cash in” for all the years demonstrating concepts of design for reality & fewest parts, etc. & not quite “making it” in the material reality. I still refer to their 1977 blueprint for “Cybertech Village”.
    Having worked/lived for five years in a communal/collective situation studied by Harvard as an early model of 24/7 living/working together crisis intervention social enterprise, i can expand on that model, build in some revenue producing activities like food items, crafts, etc. or wholeheartedly submit to someone else’s model but it will have to have no internal resistence and allow it’s parts to work to fulfill the whole…jfb