Ask a silly question…

Well, I’m back at ISPCS again, one of my favorite conferences about spaceflight.  And this year I am joined by Greg Moran, Mach 30’s vice president.  One of the first day’s panels concerned intellectual property as business assets.  Just as the panel was about to start, Greg asked me if I was going to ask the panel a question about open source hardware.  My response was “of course not, I learned a long ago bringing up open source in large sessions like this doesn’t work.”  Well, this panel showed me I hadn’t learned that lesson as well as I thought.  😉

The first panelist was from the Patent and Trademark Office and she presented a number of changes which are in the works concerning how patents and patent applications work.  Given that our mission involves open sourcing our designs instead of patenting them, her material did not really concern Mach 30.  The second speaker was the CEO of a computer peripheral company which derives a great deal of its income from its patent portfolio, so much so that he described his business as an intellectual property business instead of a hardware business.  At some point he went as far as to suggest the new space companies should consider a similar model.  Well, that was the proverbial straw for me, so I posted the following (somewhat snarky tweet) to vent my frustration over his message.

Now, I knew in the back of my mind that the ISPCS staff were going to draw some audience questions from tweets tagged with “#ISPCS“, but that hadn’t happened yet, so I figured nothing else would come of it.  Imagine my surprise when one of the first questions was preceded with the caveat that it came from twitter, and then heard my tweet read out loud, followed by the sound of crickets.  No one on the stage understood what the question was even asking, so I raised my hand, claimed ownership of the question, and elaborated on it.  So, how did the panelists respond?  I think the twitterverse said it best.

Ouch! Well, the second panelist did say something about liking his monopolies. But wait, there’s more.

Maybe we need to do some outreach on the benefits software companies large and small have gotten from open source software?

And do you want to know the best part? Greg and I got several “oh that was you” comments when we introduced ourselves at dinner and the reception afterwards. Let’s hear it for stirring the pot.


About J. Simmons

J. Simmons is the founder and president of Mach 30. As a Dayton Area Graduate Studies Institute Fellow, J. spends his days studying Space Systems Engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), and his nights leading a revolution in space systems development. J.’s vision for Mach 30 combines his years working and volunteering for non-profits and his experiences using open source software tools in small business.

Posted on October 20, 2011, in ISPCS, Why Open Source? and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I really wish I’d seen (and recorded!) this event!

  2. Yeah… I thought ISPCS was going to put up videos of all the sessions, but I still can’t find them. If they do, I’ll be sure to post a link so you can watch.

  3. Awesome! I’m working on a pair of papers for my masters on (roughly) this topic. I’d suspected, but it’s hilarious to find out that the “space industry” actually doesn’t know what open source is 😛

    Perhaps Public Knowledge would help set up an aerospace themed event for open hardware

  4. @mattmaier, I had the same response you did (I had some inkling because of my one on one conversations at conferences, but I was still floored by the responses I got). Can you tell us more about the papers you are working on? Also, feel free to ask us any questions about our work or open source spaceflight that would be useful with your research.

    Working with Public Knowledge on promoting open source spaceflight is a good idea. They had me on a podcast not too long ago, so I think there is a good chance they would be open to a well thought out proposal. During the podcast, we talked about open source hardware in general, Open Design Engine (,and open source spaceflight. You can find the podcast here –

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