For our U.S. readers: Happy Labor Day.  Rest. You deserve it.

A question arose recently about our efforts to preserve the public availability of technology resulting from work in OSET Foundation efforts, namely the TrustTheVote Project

How can such technology be preserved for public benefit without fear of it being unfairly usurped for commercial gain locked back into proprietary black-box solutions?

What is beyond the scope of this post but relevant to the question is a discussion about the opportunity to re-invent a very important part of the ecosystem for election administration technology: the commercial industry to deliver, deploy, service, and support election administration systems.  We envision an industrial reorganization built on software-based systems adapted, delivered, and deployed by a class of technology services organization called a “systems integrator.”  So, a significant part of the strategy for ensuring public ownership of the underlying election technology infrastructure – principally the software – is reinventing the composition of election and voting systems, and the delivery of them.

But we aren’t stopping at an envisioned industrial reorganization.  From the start we established some operating principles that encourage challenging the status quo of nearly everything.  So, we’re considering all opportunities, and one is protection of this publicly owned intellectual property.  It may be—we cannot say for sure yet—that there is so much innovation in the Open Source Election Technology Framework under development in the TrustTheVote Project that the innovations deserve and the public could benefit from further intellectual property protection means.  And that could potentially include patent protection.

Patent protection can help prevent another organization from attempting to block this technology from being publicly available.  To ensure this, if we were to pursue patents for the results of our non-profit research, development and education, we want to emphatically state here that we will not:

  1. Use patents as a "sword" to extract royalties from anyone; or
  2. Use patents as an asset for financial gain or leverage (more on that below)

However, we will assign the ownership of those patents to the citizens of the United States—that is, we will turn them over to the public.  And here is a very important point in that regard: we have no choice.  It is part and parcel of our tax-exempt status as a public charity: the assets of the OSET Foundation cannot be used for commercial gain and the only entity that can legally receive those assets is another non-profit organization.  We can, however, give this resulting by-product of the Foundation’s work to the very beneficiaries of the existence of the OSET Foundation. 

The Foundation is, after all, a California Public Benefit Corporation and we take that title and responsibility seriously.

We note in closing that this strategy is not unprecedented.  Recently one of the master entrepreneurs, Elon Musk essentially did the same thing with Tesla Automotive: turning over 300 patents (and new ones as they issue) to the public with a covenant to not take legal action against anyone who in good faith wishes to utilize Tesla patents to advance innovation in the domain of electric powered personal human transportation.

We cannot say at this writing today, the U.S. Labor Day holiday, whether patent protection will be an intellectual property strategy for the OSET Foundation.  However, we do commit to ensuring that like the open source nature of our election technology research, development, and education mission, any patents awarded to the Foundation will be made publicly available.  Stay tuned; we'll let you know if we make that choice.