Nanotech: Open Source or Proprietary

From: Paul Hughes (
Date: Tue Jul 11 2000 - 12:28:58 MDT

I'm still hoping this thread generates some debate. To me it seems,
this one of the more important challenge we're going to have to face
over the next decade.

Below is a post I made to the Transdot site about nanotech property
rights, and a thoughtful response by Saige follows:

Its quite possible the assembler won't be for sale, at least not to the
general public. Large companies who can afford a 10-50 billion dollar
price tag, may likely obtain licensing rights for its use, but that's a
far cry from the average joe owning it. Basically the first company to
develop the assembler, lets say Zyvex, has the potential to completely
dominate the economy from that point forward. Zyvex could either retain
sole rights to own and use the assembler, or they could develop strict
licensing agreements where other companies can have their own
assemblers, as long as they pay Zyvex an initial $10 billion and 20%
royalties on all future profits. That being the case, Zyvex would
quickly become the worlds first trillion dollar company, and thats not
counting its holdings on Wall Street!

So where's the hope you say? Competition of course! Hopefully, the first
company to develop this assembler will not obtain all-inclusive patent
rights thereby allowing a sufficient number of competitors to enter the
race. Since nanotech has the potential to bring prices of all material
goods down to near-zero, that is exactly what will happen if enough
competition exists. The current long distance rates are a perfect
example of competitive price lowering. Why charge $10/pound for
nanomaterials when it costs less than 5 cents/pound to produce? That
means you can triple your profits by only charging 15 cents/pound. With
enough competition, nanomaterials would soon reach very cheap price

Saige Responds:

...Thats what I fear the most... That either one company, or multiple
companies, will develop this technology and abuse the current
intellectual property laws to keep it to themselves, and establish
pretty much control over things.

After all, wealth isn't really an objective thing, but a subjective
thing. Being wealthy is determined by how much more you have than other
people. And while after developing this technology they may not have
nearly as much need for money themselves, they still have the ability to
gain power by keeping it away from other people.

>From a corporate view, it would actually be wrong to make this
technology available to others. A corporation is all about gaining
wealth and power, and that's exactly what the corporate ethics are. To
them, it would be unethical to make it available to others, because it
would directly oppose their main goal of profit.

To be honest, I'd rather not have nanotechnology, then have it under the
complete control of a corporation or two, but be unavailable to me
except the goods produced by it. (And likely not the best ones possible,
so to guarantee people having to make repeat purchases.)

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Mon Oct 02 2000 - 17:34:23 MDT