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This is a marvelous idea. Any ideas for how to make it happen? It would be a terrible shame if this idea just rotted on Slog.

Posted by east coaster | September 23, 2008 6:50 PM

I'd say if you want to succeed, you should get your Mom, who is, say, a mining heiress, to call her friends at the jet fuel company and give you a license to sell your jet fuel. Then you would go out and buy competitors who may have a better existing formula. Then get your dad, who works for the biggest law firm in Washington, to seal the deal and make sure all the dirt is under the rug.

Then, eventually, you will work with the jet fuel company on a "new better formula" but then claim that they "don't know what their doing" and take the IP for yourself.

After that you will never change your formula but will have grown "too big to fail". You'll keep releasing the same crappy stuff for 2 decades only give it names like Dossier and other stuff.

Then, finally, you will do a commercial with Jerry Seinfeld, and try to get people to think you actually shop at Top Food and carry your own groceries to the SUV.

It's the American Way!

Posted by John Bailo | September 23, 2008 6:59 PM

Science, your socio-capitalistic ideas make me fuzzy inside.

Posted by Super Jesse | September 23, 2008 7:04 PM

Anyone can download Linux and install it for free. With a little know how. Hell, who needs Lunix? Anyone can download GCC and write their own operating system. As long as they know how.

I recommend you start with cutting your own hair. Once you master that, move on to other easy tasks anyone can do, like Lunix.

Posted by elenchos | September 23, 2008 7:16 PM


Funny you mention that.

I've been greatly enjoying Suse 11.0

Fantastically simple install. Beautiful interface.

I was watching Hulu videos last night and also the documentary "Yes Men" using the VideoLan player.

You know what surprises me is all these Northwest "radicals" who rant and rave about Republicans all day long either use Vista or OSX.

Why not go full bore and use Linux...or are you all hypocrites....don't answer....we know already.

Posted by John Bailo | September 23, 2008 7:20 PM

You know, I really think you may be onto something here, it's kind of like a government chartered efficiency think tank. It would definitely make sense to have something like this around now that we're starting to product better nanotech. Materials science is a burgeoning field.

It would also help ensure that, as we get closer to a technological singularity, that the old guard of monopolies can no longer stifle progress and have to get on the bus as well.

Considering that the general scientific consensus is that we are beyond the point of no return with global warming, we not only need to make *drastic* fundamental changes to our air pollution habits. But we also need to be inventing things to undo some of the damage we've done already. And we need to invent these technologies yesterday. Incentivizing the creation of entirely new markets and their complements is a VERY good idea.

Posted by Super Jesse | September 23, 2008 7:22 PM

intellectual property should be taxed just as many other forms of property are either in ownership or transfer of ownership.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | September 23, 2008 7:27 PM

It seems like you've left scientists' greed out of the equation. And the privatization, through corporate funding, of universities' scientific departments. Neoliberalism and WTO's TRIPS.

You wouldn't need to create this new agency if the public, rather than universities desperate for cash or corporations, controlled the patents on scientists' inventions. But to introduce something into the commons like that would require 1) providing adequate public support to public universities; 2) having scientists not feel entitled to become wealthy entrepreneurs of their scholarship; 3) overcoming corporate opposition; and 4) overcoming corporations' political flacks, especially when it comes to global trade agreements and intellectual property rights and fair vs unfair competition.

Since your plan doesn't address any of that, it is pie-in-the-sky and DOA. Which is to say I dig your socialist inclinations, but they need to come with a power analysis of why ideas like yours are not going to happen absent the development of a movement to challenge corporate power over our public institutions.

Posted by Trevor | September 23, 2008 7:29 PM

Trevor, take intellectual property taxes and make them fund our public universities. if universities don't make money off their research due to corporate idiocy the least they can do is at least gain the tax money from it.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | September 23, 2008 7:39 PM

Jonathan, while your idea sounds pretty good to me, you'd run into problems if you try to use the eminent domain power to forcibly purchase patents. That pretty clearly violates our treaty agreements with most of the world.

You could, instead, get compulsory licenses under TRIPs if the patent is really being used to block, but that'd inevitably lead to litigation. Better toss in a few extra billion for patent attorneys.

Posted by AnonymousCoward | September 23, 2008 9:13 PM

Golob, I like your ideas, sir. We've seen this tried on a very limited scale with patent pools (software, other), but this could be applied to many more things. It's kind of like an open venture capital firm that any interested party can join. Of course, the end goal is the technology and not just the capital in this case.

- a "Northwest 'radical'" and Linux user. Keep it coming, Bailo.

Posted by bearseatbeats | September 23, 2008 10:41 PM

@9: The universities try as best they can to tightly manage intellectual property developed with their resources, and get cuts of public-private partnerships. In fact they salivate so much over the fact that the sciences are self-sustaining that they have given dwindling attention to the humanities.

That's part of the problem. If universities are dependent upon that revenue coming from private enterprise, they're going to resist creating a trademark commons. If you tax the commons too much to make up for the lost revenue, it undermines the whole point of taking the profit system out of this kind of product innovation. Similarly corporations invested in reproducing social inequality and environmentally unsustainable consumption habits will relentless attack any idea to make public goods they trade in. Until you can develop a language for mobilizing the public against corporate interests, you'll be powerless to develop alternatives that aren't immediately coopted.

Posted by Trevor | September 23, 2008 10:43 PM

The only problem I see with this is that is is still dependent on the archaic notion that we can "innovate" our way out of the problems associated with civilization.

Finding new and clever ways to continue consuming resources at our current rate is not the solution.

Even the most ambitious recycling program (or whatever buzzword you want to insert) in the world wouldn't fix the problems we have visited upon ourselves and the natural world.

The answer will come in a sharp decline in our consumption of resources (finite or not). It's not about what kind of jet fuel, it's about a culture that believes in manipulating the natural world (bugs are a natural resource too) in order to continue its boundless exploitation.

If we continue to believe that we can enjoy products from a large scale system of production without experiencing any of the problems inherent in that system (problems that cannot be fixed by developing new ways to consume the same resources), we will see the same problems over and over again.

Posted by AW | September 24, 2008 6:22 AM

so AW, when are you decreasing your consumption?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | September 24, 2008 8:45 AM

I obviously don't have the whole world figured out, I'm just saying that until we re-frame the discussion to talk about abandoning lifestyles that depend on products that cannot be made using the earth we stand upon, we will not have achieved "sustainability"

Civilization, and capitalism (obviously) are based on the promotion of endless consumption. There is a finite amount of energy on this planet. We cannot simply repackage it or funnel it through a different production stream in order to lessen our impact on the natural world.

The only way to "solve" the problem, is by dismantling the culture that supports the consumption of products made by someone other than ourselves, using resources that we did not ourselves extract.

Like I said, I'm not claiming to have all the answers or to be the most sustainable person in the world. I am a vegan who doesn't drive, but I'm using a computer right now, and I drink coffee.

I'm just saying that if we're going to talk about solutions here, we can't talk about them within the context of the current system. We have to abandon the idea that the world is ours to consume, and focus instead on "innovating" our way back to building our own homes and growing our own food.

While Jonathan's assessment is the sexiest repackaging I've seen in a while, it's still a band aid for a larger problem.

Posted by AW | September 24, 2008 10:47 AM


Are you suggesting that we all give up consuming things unless we made them ourselves? That we give up all the efficiencies and gains from trading with other people? Take a basic economics course and you'll learn that that will never happen. Or better yet, try living without trading for anything, making everything yourself, and see how you like it.

Posted by east coaster | September 24, 2008 2:43 PM

Anyway, Jonathan, after reading all the comments on Slog I hope you take this idea to a blog with smarter commenters. This is a good idea to address the serious problem of blocking patents which is stifling economic progress and I hope you won't be discouraged by a bunch of idiots here, most of whom seem to have no idea what they are talking about.

Posted by east coaster | September 24, 2008 2:50 PM

east coaster:

Thank you. I'm not discouraged. I only write for a few blogs.

If you really love this, submit it to digg, reddit, metafilter or the ilk?

Posted by Jonathan Golob | September 24, 2008 3:37 PM

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