You have to be a resident of Oregon to understand true mania for berries. I know the Swedes love their lingonberries, and the folks in California think they have good strawberries – but you need to spend a summer in Oregon to understand how far people can take their love of berries. See, in Oregon, a strawberry isn’t legitimate until it is red all the way through with so much juice and flavor that it will make you sit down when you eat it. Oregon State University has gone so far as to create a hybrid of the blackberry and the loganberry that was named the marionberry (long before the fame of the D.C. Mayor). Huge, juicy berries that are explosively flavorful.
Ok – how far am I going to take this berry thing? This past weekend I went end-of-the-season berry picking with my wife and kids to a farm in Aurora, Oregon that boasts of having “monster blackberries.” They are not kidding – imagine a blackberry the size of a small plumb where each berry takes 4 or 5 bites to eat. Given the purple mess that my 2 year-old’s face was when he was done with a few…they were good. As I stood talking with the farmer about his crop I asked him about these amazing berries. What kind of blackberry can grow so large? His answer – “It’s a trade secret.”
Give the Governor a Harumph.
That caught me off guard. Surely, the barrier to entry in getting land, planting a huge field, putting in the years to get mature plants that produce a maximum amount of fruit – to say nothing of the process of harvesting, packaging, and getting them to market – was enough to make me a non-threat to his business.
Yet, this conversation really got me thinking. Protecting the fruits of your labors (sorry, couldn’t resist) is extremely important if you are going to maintain a healthy commercial interest. I am sure that there is a huge amount of free information out there about berry farming. In fact, there must be a lifetime’s worth of data on soil management, irrigation, harvest management, etc. But the one, most important fact as to what kind of berry grows so large and with such ripeness – that is what he is holding onto so tightly.
Is software so different? The trick for any of us in the commercial software space is to know what the core asset is, and what is the compliment. Some resources you are going to release for everyone to use, while others are held very tightly. Open sourcing something may seem like a good idea, but if you are releasing your core asset you may not be able to harvest much of a crop later. (must...stop...punning) Furthermore, if you are going to share something, it is well worth you while to deeply consider the terms and conditions you will place upon a given release. Recently, we have been giving a great deal of thought to our licensing terms as we share our technologies. More on that to come.
Next weekend, we’re going to go back to pick those huge blackberries again and I will meditate more on the implications of trade secrets while my boys prove that the commercials on TV about the effectiveness of laundry detergent are complete fabrications (last pun, I promise).