30 October 2007

Put Me Down for X

One of the interesting ideas for replacing the current patent mess is to use a bidding system. People - or, more likely, governments - would pledge a certain amount of money for any company that developed a drug to do "Y", with the result placed in the public domain. Clearly, these sums would be relatively large, but still much less than the current system, which involves pharmaceutical companies taking out patents on drugs that cost hundreds of millions to develop, and then charging thousands of pounds per individual course, and billions cumulatively.

That's not going to happen any day soon in the world of drugs, given the latter's rather inflated ideas of its own worth (just how many copycat drugs for rectifying rich people's excesses do we need?). But it might just work in the world of free software, and Cofundos are giving it a whirl:

1 Somebody misses an open-source software tool or library for a specific purpose, a feature in an open-source software or a plugin for an existing software. He describes the project to develop the software.
2 Requirements-Engineering: Other people help enhancing the description of the project by adding specific requirements and comments.
3 Bidding: Users who also like the project and need the resulting software, bid a certain amount of money, which they will donate to the project performer after its successful completion.
4 Offering: Specialists who are capable to perform the project and to develop the respective software offer to realise the project for a certain amount of money and within a certain timeframe.
5 Call for competitive offers: As soon as the sum of the bid amount exceeds the money requested by the first offer, a call for competitive offers is started and lasts for three week.
6 Accepting an offer: After the three weeks call period for alternative offers is elapsed, all bidders are requested to vote about which offer to choose. Bidders votes are weighted by the amount of their bid. The specialist with the majority of the votes is selected to carry out the project.

Neat. And, even better:

All ideas and contributions on Cofundos are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. All project outcomes must be licensed under an OSI approved open-source license.

Also worth noting is that this could never work for closed source, since you cannot, by definition, add arbitrary functionality to such black boxes.

The only thing I'd say is that the sums on offer for new bits of code are currently rather low. This may well be lack of publicity - which is why I've giving some to what sounds like a fascinating attempt to think and do differently.

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