28 June 2008

On Patents And Proprietary Software

Open Source is so 2000. Some people has to brace change and some has to brace change the radical way. 70% of open source projects today are based in Java and they are the more complicated versions today of their earlier predecessors. There really isn't much innovation and improvement happened looking from the turn of the century up to the present that has really made some difference in the lives of most developers around world that has made them more productive than before, more focused than before. The users' frustrations are just as high as before. Take for example AJAX, which is trying to be a rich client application now is starting to get bloated causing some serious slow down, crashes and security compromises on one's PC. These tools looks only sexy and cool in tutorials but that doesn't prove anything in the real world.

Web applications today has so many usability issues. Documentations are just de facto standard, and there's no definite standards of all sorts in the Open source paradigm. I'm not entirely against Open Source but some of these guys or most of these guys has to do hard thinking in order for them to be still relevant in the next 10 or 20 years in the software development industry.

Let's not make things complicated, it's very simple. A developer who open sources his works has no business whatsoever. I'm talking from the developer's standpoint not from Technical Support standpoint. It's like indie music, indie music does not help create jobs specially if the artists maintains Creative Commons license of their songs, but copyrighting them and making CDs out of them. When they copyright them, they can seal a recording contract, hire sound engineers, hire stage crews, hire event organizers, get a lot of corporate sponsors, and eventually make money with a copyrighted product. Same goes with software writing. Unfortunately, software is not like music. It doesn't make sense to patent a software anymore. Rather the software has to be in a patentable hardware in order for it to do business. For any startup software company today, there is no business in software alone. A real product means proprietary software running on a very sleek cool hardware or appliance. Patents does not necessarily stifle innovations, it actually promotes in the most obvious and traditional way that a developer must be very creative and innovative or die. Others can copy and pay and that is real business. With proprietary products developers/entrepreneurs can enter the market anytime they desire, they can compete anytime they desire. They create real jobs, real coding works. Because at the end of the day, that's only one workable for most of us. There's only one Googleplex, don't try to replicate it.

07 June 2008

Of Filipino Tech Startup and Filipino Silicone Valley

Java is getting boring. We're getting multinational projects of vintage proportions, web frameworks with gazillion of configurations (Java developers are still webbies). The value of Open Source is really more on cutting down costs and not really about generating profits, still, Open Source revolves around the Cost Center, a great force for saving money, but still unproven for generating it consistently (hey, tech support is the only solid business model for open source).

But before I go wayward with my topic, I'm really interested in the Filipino Tech Startup scene as there is too little discussion about its unique characteristics, its life cycle, how it is coping up and moving along. There's so many Filipino Tech Startup today that grow out from dream and passion with very little thought on plans and risks. There's also a mythical fear of involvement with angel investors and venture capitalists, which is quite regretful as there's just so much cash in the country at this time of the great global crisis and it is funneled in the wrong directions which these Pinoy Startuppers should be taking advantage of.

So what are these Filipino tech startups have in common? There are several items that may tell us:

  • They are mostly self-funded
  • They are mostly web-centric
  • They are mostly software-based
  • They hold no or little patent under their names
  • They lightly consider patent as their key asset
  • They are heavily dependent on Open Source
The industrial culture of Filipino Tech Startup is analogous to other Philippine-grown cottage industries, just like the days of Lechon Manok (Roasted Chicken) boom, everyone is in this business or the Nata de Coco (Coco Jelly) craze where a lot cashed in and gone and a only a handful survived. In the Filipino Tech startup scene, when mobile messaging was still hot there are a lot who came and gone and few stayed. That is typical Pinoy (slang for Filipino), where there's easy money, there is bandwagon. There is little or no diversity just like in the real Silicone Valley in which an angel or VC can have a lot of options to put their money in.

Patents. The primary reason for having a patent is to protect an intellectual property (IP), second is to make money from IP through licensing. Most Filipino Tech startup may have one [but mediocre] patent in their belt which earns little or no royalties at all. Patent is important to any business because it helps generate revenue without moving an inventory or doing mind-numbing projects until wee hours of the morning. This is the problem of too much dependency on Open Source. Open Source, if utilized properly can save a lot on someone's business but it's not a product or service that is worth selling to a paying customer. In fact, if a Filipino Tech startup does not hold a patent and multiply it by ten folds then we don't really have an industry and this largely contributes to our Brain Drain as most of our best people will simply fly away to patent-rich valleys in which their cerebral contents are more protected and notable.

Too much web-centricity, your web application maybe 24/7 but your user is not. There's a product that sleeps with a user and comes in millions of varieties and guess what it is? It's a timepiece. It's offline and always "there". During the "iBoom" and before the "iBurst", Silicone Valley was mushroomed with a lot of web-base tech startups, they came and gone and never ruled(Google is not in Cupertino, by the way). Silicone Valley is still reigned by "offline" but "on-demand" companies just like Apple and Intel, their core business is not about the Internet, it's about driving the Internet. These companies don't make money from the Web, they make it through compelling, tangible products and licensing of IPs. So here's a hard fact, Filipino Silicone Valley will never grow without solid, tangible products churning out of it.

The Silicone Valley is an ecosystem of brave technopreneurs with solid products (hardware and software in one roof) and comprehensive business plans (forget about the Tissue Paper Myth), angel investors and venture capitalists. One cannot live without the other. In the Philippines, we have all these components, we have the money (that goes nowhere), the talents (that goes anywhere) but we don't have an ecosystem. In order for us to achieve this, we have to do away with risk-intolerant technopreneur wannabes, people who just want to be on the rap sheet but is not willing to put their names on it. We need small shop R&D as well that will cater to bigger fishes, it will going to be impossible to put up a thousand-team scientist and engineers in one ship. But a multi-company team can help.

The Funding. There are some Pinoy startuppers or technopreneurs who are eager to get funding but is not willing to put their names on it. They are mostly opinionated but never really took responsibility on something with a just a few hyped achievements to show. Again, Tech Startup, just like any other business, has its own shares of risks and responsibility. In the Philippines, we don't lack funds, we lack people on how to multiply these funds.