Recently I watched the TED talk on Sparkfun, given by the owner of Sparkfun Nathan Seidle. If you are not familiar with TED talks, you really have to check them out. It is a fantastic way to learn about super complex subjects, in a very short period of time, in a easy to understand and concise way. Best of all, they are given by industry leaders who are excellent speakers.
During Nathan's speech he delves into differences between Open Source Hardware development and attempting to protect every idea via patents. While this debate is not new by any means, I find it absolutely fascinating. Essentially it boils down to this, even if you have a patent someone or some company will either steel it or circumvent it. So, why bother in the first place? After all patents are massively expensive and are only enforceable if you are willing to spend countless hours and a fortune on lawyer expenses. So, again why bother?
In stark contrast to this, Nathan decided directly out of college that instead of attempting to lock down every idea and embroil oneself in eternal litigation, that his company would simply innovate. Now, I say "simply innovate" however nothing can be further from simple at all. In order to stay financially viable with this model, simply innovate means they must create new products constantly. Why? The average time until a Sparkfun knock off appears in the market is, ready for this? A measly 12 weeks, can you imagine that, 12 weeks!! I found that astonishing to say the least. However this is also what fuels them to continue to innovate. They simply must to remain profitable.
As a result Sparkfun's portfolio is truly amazing, carrying everything from Arduino to headers. They have weekly product announcements which are often highlighted with a funny video or two. In short, Sparkfun is an amazing model of #OSHW and how to make a successful business out of it while making it look easy. So kudos to you Sparkfun!
So what do you think? Will you patent your next idea or continually innovate? Chime in, I would love to hear your opinions!