It’s not often that I get up on my soapbox about ‘IP’ issues, though I did write about a copyright infringement problem I had a few years ago — that one turned out well, maybe this one will too.
It’s also not often that I will write a negative review — not because I like everything that I read, just that I'd rather follow "Thumper's Rule" and just not write anything. Every once in a while though, something comes up that makes me go against these personal policies. Yesterday it happened again.
Lately, I’ve been getting interested in extracting information from unstructured data. (I blame some of my recent reading like: Visualizing Data and Programming Collective Intelligence.) So, I was really excited when IBM Press sent me a review copy of “Mining the Talk”.
I sat down and started reading, I’d nearly finished the introduction when I hit a problem. Right there on page xix, the last paragraph reads:
On the other hand, if you want to take our methods and create your own software solution to sell as a product, while we applaud your initiative and enthusiasm, you really should first discuss this with suitable representatives from IBM business development. IBM has sole ownership of all the intellectual property described in this book, all of which is protected by U.S. patents, both granted and pending. All rights reserved, etc., etc.
Wow! How broken is this? IBM has put two senior staff members through the effort of writing a good looking book; put untold others to work editing and marketing said book (at $45 a pop); then put the whole thing under lock and key by claiming that they hold patents over the whole of it. They might as well have written the book in Klingon -- ehh, no I guess not, too many geeks can read Klingon.
I don’t know about you, but I read books so that I can learn how to do something. If a book carries a warning label which states that I’m putting myself at risk of patent litigation by implementing the ideas in the book, I’ve got a problem with that. A big enough problem that I'm not going to reading it.
I brought this to the attention of the authors, and I got the following response from Scott Spangler:
You raise a very important point, and it is one that we wrestled with in writing the book and in making the software that implements its methods available for free on ibm.alphaworks.com. It seems to me there are competing interests here. There's the interest I have as an author to publish my work so that interesting and thoughtful people will read it and comment on it and use it for productive purposes, thus giving me valuable feedback and new avenues for application of my ideas. There's the interest IBM has as a publicly traded company to produce value for its shareholders and make a return on the investment it has made in its research assets. There's the interest of the reader has to get a return on her investment in purchasing the book and spending the time to read it. I believe all these interests are fairly balanced by this book and by the underlying patents that support IBM's ownership of the intellectual property described. ...
Is this a perfect solution? Perhaps not. It would be better if the reader could just read the book and do whatever they wanted to based on the ideas within it without fear of lawyers. And then somehow, magically, if the reader used the ideas to make significant money, IBM's fair share of that profit would be transferred to compensate the company for its foresight in investing and supporting our work over the years. But this is the world we have. And in that imperfect world, I don't regret writing this imperfect book (and I hope Pearson [the publisher behind IBM Press] doesn't regret publishing it!).
Scott closes by saying "I don't know if I have persuaded you to keep reading, but I sincerely hope so." Sadly, while I understand his point of view, I'm still not willing to cross the line they've drawn in the text. Hopefully, I'll hear back from their business development person with a clear statement that Free/Open Source software developers can implement the ideas contained in the book without fear of patent litigation.
I hope that IBM press, and any other parties involved in this book will see the light and specifically allow individuals or companies to use the information that they have worked so hard to publish. Until that happens, I can only recommend that you stay away from this book and look for other alternatives.