I hope to see real long-term progress come out of this initiative, which I'd liken to a treaty that forbids launching a nuclear first strike:
In March, we announced an Open Patent Non-Assertion (OPN) Pledge—committing not to sue any user, distributor or developer of open-source software on specified patents, unless first attacked. Our goal was to encourage pro-competitive, defensive uses of patents to support open-source innovation.
Today we are pleased to pledge an additional 79 patents under the OPN. These patents cover software used to efficiently operate data centers, including middleware, distributed storage management, distributed database management, and alarm monitoring.
Having fought off five patent troll suits in three years at eHarmony, I'm all in favor of anything that resembles "arms reduction." Of course, as we all know, treaties are only as good as the countries that honor them.
Steve covers the key concepts of economic rents, rent-seeking and regulatory capture, and uses PayPal as an instructive example. A couple thoughts of my own:
"Not all government regulation is rent or rent seeking." At the risk of getting political, I think this understates the point. The modern regulatory state includes things like health and safety laws, licensing, insurance and public reporting requirements to impose accountability on private enterprises that would otherwise have every incentive to maximize profits without regard to consequences. (This isn't meant to pass judgment on entrepreneurs; "rational profit-maximizing" behavior is inevitable in well-functioning markets.)
One common government failure that Steve rightly points out is the abuse of these tools to entrench rent-seeking incumbents (Regulatory Capture). There is also risk of oversimplification in a polarized political atmosphere, conflating legitimate policy goals with indefensible rent-seeking by incumbents. The "cab wars" currently being fought in major cities are a classic example: Everybody claims to be pro-consumer, but it's just as tempting for those on one side (medallion owners) to cite issues like safety as pretext for protectionism as it is for others to cite entrenchment as a pretext to overstate ideologically driven total deregulation of business.
From a risk management perspective, there are many "what-if" scenarios that haven't played out yet. Airbnb learned the hard way from its “Ransackgate" crisis that abuse and risk incidents are inevitable with scale. What happens when a guest gets horribly burned in a fire or murdered in a botched robbery attempt and the owner's insurer refuses to pay up because operating the home as a commercial enterprise was explicitly excluded from the homeowner's insurance policy? (This specific example may have been addressed by Airbnb as part of its reaction to the incident, but the broader theme holds true for P2P car rentals, ride sharing services, etc.)
Expect anyone rendered helpless after an attack or accident to loudly complain to the press (as in Ransackgate) and politicians to lend a sympathetic ear. Regardless of the legal and regulatory consequences, market-disrupting startups should plan ahead for the worst and internalize the fact that "we told you so" type disclaimers won't cut it in the court of public opinion.