Today I have pushed changes to spiro and the spline research repositories, changing the license from GNU General Public License to Apache 2 + MIT. In addition, I am passing all patents into the public domain. I’d like to say a few words about why.

I had hoped to maybe build a technology licensing business from this spline work. In fact, I did do one license, which I think helps calibrate the decision. However, that side has not worked out as well as I hoped. I believe a big part of the problem is that once you start talking about patents, people get nervous and uncomfortable; it introduces lots of friction into discussions.

After 37 years in the technology licensing business (dating from the filing of my first revenue-generating patent), I have come to understand that ideas are worth very little, almost all the value is in the execution. Similarly, very few people want to license a dump of research code, as it generally isn’t much use by itself, but needs to be customized and adapted to fit a real need. I’m finding much more receptiveness to opportunities to adapt spline research to specific applications, than licensing of the existing research code.

I very much enjoy doing independent research, and would love to find ways for that practice to be sustainable. Research is evaluated on impact, and this is as it should be. It’s clear to me now that permissive licensing is the best way to optimize for impact.

I’m very fortunate to have an exciting project coming up that is based on splines and will give me the opportunity to get them into the hands of more users. More about that soon. But even aside from that, I hope that people will now feel free to explore and experiment with my splines, without fear that they are subjecting their companies to any legal risk.

In an ideal world, incentives for researchers and creatives would be clearly aligned with simply doing good work. I think the Founders intended for the patent system to serve exactly that role, but it has been perverted mightily from those ideals, now mostly serving to benefit large corporations, rent-seekers, and an entire class of professionals serving those interests. I do not feel great about participating in such a system, but my decision is every bit as practical as it is idealistic; I might file more patents in the future if I see a clear win. I’m also not above taking money to be an expert witness or whatnot, especially to help defend against bad patents. But for now, I am doing my best to create the ideal world for myself, focusing on making cool things.

The best thing about patents is that they end. Today, I have moved that process along a little.