Fake Steve Jobs Misteps with Mary Lou Jepsen

   
   
   
   
   

While Fake Steve Jobs sometimes goes over the top with his criticism of One Laptop Per Child, I often find myself laughing till I cry at his biting, on-target satire of Nicholas Negroponte's missteps.

Sadly, today FSJ turned his bite on Mary Lou Jepsen, the departing CTO of OLPC, and committed missteps of his own.


Mary Lou Jepsen of OLPC

While he generically insults OLPC, he specifically questions their non-profit tax structure, the generosity of G1G1 donors, and Mary Lou's post-OLPC intentions:

[A] question worth asking is whether Mary Lou Jepsen actually managed to retain ownership of her designs while working for OLPC, a 501(c)(3) organization. If so, doesn't this mean that in effect taxpayers subsidized the R&D for whatever "for-profit company" Mary Lou Jepsen is now about to launch?
FSJ, you just went too far. Not only is Jespen one of OLPC's (and definitely my personal) hero, she just spent three years of this very short life dedicating herself to making OLPC work.

I feel she was the key success factor at OLPC, and with the XO laptop in production, she has every right to capitalize on her abilities using every capitalistic tool available to her. Especially since she'll still offering her time to OLPC at below-market rates and more importantly, assigned her clock-stopping hot screen patents to OLPC.

That's right - she assigned her "Self-refreshing display controller for a display device in a computational unit" patent to OLPC. In fact, the only OLPC inventor not to assign their patent to OLPC is Nicholas Negroponte with his "Low cost portable computing device".

Now FSJ does bring up a damn good point in the middle of his tirade about creative financing for XO laptop donations:

At the very least shouldn't OLPC be the one making money on this stuff? They could license this super valuable technology to commercial companies and use the money to buy laptops for poor kiddies in the developing world.
Guess what? None other than Mary Lou Jepsen herself presented that idea in her OLPC roadmap to financial independence. And I have a bright green laptop that says she's gonna do just that with Joe Inc.

Great minds do think alike, eh Steve?

Update: Mary Lou Jepsen has added clarity in the comments below:

I'm not taking my inventions from OLPC - I'm licensing them from OLPC. Why: An inventor has a good chance of improving the price/performance of her inventions. Why restrict her access to them if our goal is lower cost computing for the developing world?
Exactly! Power to you, Mary Lou.

Related Entries

31 Comments

I think the guy has a very important point, Wayan.

Can she legally commercialize patents/products that supposedly belong to a non-profit - OLPC?

Are there any agreements we don't know about between Jepsen and Negroponte that makes this murky situation possible?


The legal and moral ramifications are profound, though. Let me give you an example:

Will anyone develop software, hardware or fix bugs or generally advance the XO for free while others do the same for a profit?

How will the thousands of volunteers feel about this situation?

There is a very fine line between contributing and being taken advantage of. This move by the OLPC management makes that line thinner and very blurred.

A very interesting story begins to unfold, I think...

So it is much harder to have the equivalent of the GPL. In theory, making your hardware "open source" would automatically provide prior art and prevent other people from getting patents on your ideas. In practice, Yoshiki's suggestion of a protective patent is very reasonable

Irvin has a point. I did a quick patent search and the one patent that came up - a patent filed for the display - is assigned to OLPC and not the individual inventors. This is standard practice by corporations, universities etc. I must assume this means Jepsen's "for profit" company will buy or lease the patent rights.

You two assume she is going to commercialize the very same OLPC technology. I say she is going to advise other companies on how they can reduce their display costs & dramatically improve display functionality.

You do realize she was an accomplished display designer before OLPC, right? That she did amazing screen designs for-profit.

To quote from her site:

Previously Jepsen's contributions have had world-wide adoption in successful Head-mounted display, HDTV and projector products. She has been a pioneer in single-panel field sequential projection display systems and liquid-crystal on silicon SOC devices.

She co-founded the first company whose sole effort was the development of microdisplays in 1995 http://www.microdisplay.com and served as its chief technology officer through 2003. Until the end of the 2004, she was the chief technology officer of Intel’s Display Division.

Irvin asks: "Will anyone develop software, hardware or fix bugs or generally advance the XO for free while others do the same for a profit?"

I sure hope that there will be both paid and volunteer developers, free and for-fee content for the xo. Only with such a mix of interests will there be a vibrant XO after market.

Just like the whole FOSS ecosystem.

Wayan says:

"You two assume she [Mary Lou Jepsen] is going to commercialize the very same OLPC technology."


Mary Lou Jepsen says:

"I'm starting a new for-profit company that will commercialize some of the technologies I invented at OLPC"

Source: http://www.joeinc.tv/


Hummm.....

And again, why is it wrong if in fact, Jepsen gets other companies to license the OLPC technology with the royalties going to OLPC to subsidize laptops for children in the developing world?

To me that would be another great Mary Lou accomplishment.

Wayan asks:

"And again, why is it wrong if in fact, Jepsen gets other companies to license the OLPC technology with the royalties going to OLPC to subsidize laptops for children in the developing world?"

Now you're the one doing the "assuming", Wayan :-)

Your question has a simple answer: IF (big if) your *assumption* is correct and the profits go to OLPC and trickels down to kids, everyone benefits.

That doesn't seem to be the case, though. Mrs. Jepsen is keeping the profits to herself, while giving OLPC "product at cost". There is no mention anywhere of any profits going to OLPC, as far as I can see.

Your question brings up a very intriguing question: to whom do these "technologies" really belong to?

Is Jepsen getting a license from OLPC, the only owner of the patent or is the other way around, with Mrs. Jepsen licensing the technology to the owner of the patent (OLPC)?

Truly fascinating subject...

I watched some communities (i.e. slashdot) latch on to this very negatively. I have a sense that she's a victim of the OLPC's inability to communicate. She may commercialize OLPC technology to the benefit of OLPC, or she may help other companies as Wayan explains.

Whatever the case, I don't think people should be looking at this like a betrayal of OLPC. She had a job at OLPC, she worked hard, she achieved goals to the benefit of OLPC, and now she is moving on. There is nothing wrong with that. Even if the circumstances are not quite as I speculate, there is nothing wrong with leaving OLPC to move on to new challenges even if they make one richer.

Hi all,

Thanks for all the interest in my new company!

some comments:

1) My new company *is* trying to explore the concepts of open hardware - and trying to figure out the right way to do it. I've been asking many people for advice on this: Richard Stallman, Eben Moglen, Larry Lessig, John Gilmore, Brewster Kahle, etc. We are struggling through it. Hardware is different from software - but how can we open it up?

2) Doesn't anyone want a 50 Euro laptop? I do. I'm not talking about designing last years product for next year. Other people can do that..I plan to continue to innovate and invent.

3) Finally: I'm not taking my inventions from OLPC - I'm licensing them from OLPC. Why: An inventor has a good chance of improving the price/performance of her inventions. Why restrict her access to them if our goal is lower cost computing for the developing world?

Wayan, living aside personal attacks on Ms. Jespen (that people should refrain from anyway), don't you think that OLPC should post their policy on how the organization would deal with requests for licensing its technology? Although this is too early to jump to any conclusion, even if she does not commercialize the very technology that she developed at OLPC, taking bits and pieces of it raises many more questions. As a G1G1 donor, should I feel being taken for a ride by OLPC?

If she is licensing the technology from the foundation and is paying according to the same royalties structure as anyone else, then that is fine. It is simply the foundation seeking a revenue stream to finance their operations. As an added bonus, these technologies will become available to more and different markets.

If it was almost any other situation, I would have issues with it due to a conflict of interest (her relationship with the foundation) as well as the misappropriation of resources (i.e. many people and businesses donated under the premise that the funding was for a charitable project, not to finance R&D that someone else would directly profit off of; and the use of public funds through tax write-offs and perhaps grants).

Negroponte can't have been the easiest man in the world to work with. What's the crime if she left? If she could invent the XO screen before I'm sure she can invent something as good, if not better, again. I'm glad I'll be able to get the technology in a commercial product.

I'm sure she's not going to steal patented information but this isn't like a SF movie where they wipe your brain clean when you leave a job. I'm sure the last thing either one of them wants is a battle in patent court.

OLPC is a 501(c)3, which means that at some point, their Federal form 990 will be available, and Ms. Jepsen's pay will be public information. My suspicion is that she was not paid what she could have made working for a for-profit company. If her work at OLPC is finished and she wants to make a salary commensurate with her talent then what is the problem, especially as she has said she is licensing her inventions from OLPC? Why should G1G1 donors feel as if they were taken for a ride? They received a charitable donation from OLPC, an innovative laptop (albeit with a number of issues to be fixed,) and a year of T-Moble Hot Spot service. No one who participated was forced to. Hopefully they did it (as I did) in support of the OLPC concept. Ms.Jepsen was instrumental on the hardware side, the many volunteers who have given generously of their time have participated on the software development side.

Has Steve Jobs made large donations to charity?
Is he worth slightly more than Ms.Jepsen?
See: http://www.wired.com/gadgets/mac/commentary/cultofmac/2006/01/70072

I say good luck to her. And thanks for her innovations on the XO.

Dear Ms Jepsen,

There are existing groups (eg. OpenCores, OpenCollector, ...) who have been working on the open hardware "problem" for a number of years. This includes questions of the legal framework surrounding it.

Despite a decade of discussion by under resourced engineers pretending to be lawyers we have yet to come up with a satisfactory equivalent to software's copyleft. If you can resolve the problem it would be a great service to the Free hardware community.

I got excited when I read your words "My new company *is* trying to explore the concepts of open hardware". The existing scene has been languishing and it would be great if you were the catalyst that fired it into action. Please don't discard the existing efforts but find a way to bring them along with you.

If the existing community does not meet the standards you require a valuable contribution would a constructive critique of the shortcomings you perceive and suggestions for how they might be fixed. One shortcoming I am aware of is a lack of leadership.

I would have sent this to you via email but I do not have your address. Hopefully it will reach you via this forum. I can be reached on [email protected]

Hello Wayan !

Come on? I mean, come on !?

I had never read a Fake Steve Jobs piece before this one, so perhaps coming to him with a fresh mind helps ---

But, surely, surely, surely, the guy is kidding? Isn't that what he does?

Isn' t he the frigging Voltaire of the IT Age or something? (As is stated in the side panel?)

Read his second paragraph:

-------------------------------------------
"Frankly, I'm shocked -- shocked! -- at the idea of someone making money this way. I mean shouldn't all ideas be free to everyone?"
------------------------------------------

Is the tongue not firmly in the cheek?

Or am I being hopelessly naive, as usual, here?

Cheers'n love, Martin

To MARY LOU JEPSEN ---- URGENT.

Mary Lou:-- You can design and build hardware of various kinds, and intend to set forth and do so. They might even include e-book reading devices. Yes?

I can put illustrated books in colour into incredibly small files for use on small, incredibly cheap, low-powered (even solar powered) e-book reading devices.

If we get together, you and I, we can without doubt lay the foundations for, and even create, billions (no fooling) of dollars in a technological industry which is barely off the ground yet, and a lot of those billions can go towards saving the children of the undeveloped world.

What do you say?

Would you like to send me an email, Mary Lou? Or perhaps reply to me here?

With love,

Dr. Martin Woodhouse.

About the attacks on Mary Lou.

This is the same type of attack that has been levelled on anyone who earned money from Free and Open Source software. And the attackers were those commercial parties who didn't want competition.

The Irvin person posting the accusations towards May Lou and the OLPC seemed to have posted first in December 2006 (search for: "Posted by: Irvin" and "Posted by: irvin"). Here he attacks Negroponte with a complete lack of understanding of children in the developing world.

Although he always shrouds his comments in "reasonable" arguments, his posts can be characterized by:
1 Attacks on the usefulness of computers in education, and any kind of educational system that differs from past USA practises

2 Attacks on the XO, OLPC, and mr Negroponte

3 Every other electronic device is better than the XO, even if it is more expensive etc.

4 A religious believe in out-of-the-box printer and MP3 support

In short, he has NEVER written something possitive about the OLPC.

Winter

Irvin is not the only name that behaves like this.

There are a number of other account names, eg, Troj, Robert etc., that field the same list of "arguments", horizontal learning curve, lack of interest, and hatred towards mr Negroponte and everything he has touched. These comment posts are so much alike that it is often unclear whether these are not all the same person.

What is puzzeling me very much, is why these people come here.

They are both ignorant and uninterested in anything that is discussed on OLPCnews. None of them ever accepted invitations to write a long post about their misgivings. However, they are unqualified negative against every aspect of the OLPC. They also are very strongly motivated to write attacks on the OLPC on OLPCnews. The same person who wrote under the name Troj reappeared for months under several other names each time he (or she) had been thrown out for personal attacks.

Winter

Winter,

honest appraisal of the OLPC leadership's decisions is never a bad thing.

I'm not the only person who finds flaws with the OLPC Project, so, I can understand your frustration and your confusion in thinking that every question represents an attack from millions of different incarnations of the same evil entity :-).

I can assure you that it is not a coincidence that the entire world has not flocked to Prof. Negroponte's door with orders in the millions.

I hope you will eventually realize that there are legitimate issues to deal with (the few you mentioned in your post and others), that not every question is an attack and that honest criticsm can only make the OLPC Project better.

That said, I respect your own right to express an opinion and thank you for your input.

Martin,

FSJ is very tongue-in-cheek sarcastic on many things, but in the best parody is a bit of reality. He has a point - money is and will be made of OLPC. Quanta is not building laptops for free. Governments are being asked to spend millions.

I also suspect that you in a long line of hopeful suitors for Ms. Jepsen's skills. Suitors that I suspect will be ranked on their end goals as much as their pocketbook.

May she do very well while doing very good.

There are many good paths to commercialized open source, MySQL being a fantastic example. I can't think of any hard reason why a similar dual-licensing scheme wouldn't be possible with the OLPC hardware. As long as MLJ's new company provides free downstream support and upgrades to the OLPC system, I'd really really love to see lots of the tech developed for the OLPC find its way into commercial laptop products. A Dell notebook with a reasonable battery life? Suspend/Hibernate that Just Works in anything but an Apple?

The OLPC screen is a fantastic innovation, the centerpiece of the device even. Even if Mary Lou started her own for-profit company making similar displays and gave OLPC nothing per unit, at the very least she should be commended for spending 3+ years of her life in more charitable avenues before that. And that is the very worst case, which seems to not even be true - the tech is being licensed from OLPC, presumably with some tangible benefit to them, maybe more than just at-cost panels, we can only speculate. So to her I say: thanks for your work on the OLPC, it is an amazing bit of kit for an amazing price and your screen is a big part of why it is so good.

As for Irvin/Robert, i'm still convinced he is a professional troll. Anyone who followed the "all i want for christmas is a psp" or the VW car bomber ad campaigns knows that companies have absolutely no scruples in any sphere, let alone the world wild web. Given this is the premier forum for OLPC discussion and many journos who have to write a piece on OLPC could be expected to find their way here it would obviously be advantageous for someone to be employed to consistently state negative talking points on every post, for easier dissemination and repetition in the media. Perhaps i have my tinfoil hat on too tight today though!

Fake Steve Job is a joker.
How about the militaro-industrial complex?
I hope that M.L.J. will make a fortune.

Irvin wrote:
"honest appraisal of the OLPC leadership's decisions is never a bad thing."

Indeed Irvin. You did your part by accusing the OLPC of betrayal and tax-fraud:
"Can [May-Lou] legally commercialize patents/products that supposedly belong to a non-profit - OLPC?

Are there any agreements we don't know about between Jepsen and Negroponte that makes this murky situation possible?"

Some more quotes:
"Mr. Negroponte makes a number of hard-to-believe assertions that make me question his morality. I just can't believe the guy truly believes what he says."
December 26, 2006

"This post by Mr. Cherlin is a perfect example of the absurd talk that has so negatively impacted the OLPC Project."
December 27, 2007

"Those who say "yes" to everything you say are often your worst enemies, and Prof. Negroponte seems incapable of finding a person who will stand up and say "What the hell are you doing? You're not fooling anyone! Stop it!""
December 28, 2007

"Hi, Donna

Perhaps this is one of those "the more you spend, the more you save with our 10% discount" type of brain twisters, ... "
December 28, 2007

In short, Irvin, you are very quick to accuse anyone of lies and fraud. But in all your posts, you have never given us an opportunity to see YOUR vision on technology, education, and economic development. You yell all kinds of accusations, "IT DOESN'T" and "IT WON'T".

You write in January 11, 2007 that the OLPC is
"essentially a re-packaged 10-year old machine? (in terms of computer power/storage/software)." This is a standpoint that has only been presented by people who showed complete ignorance in the computing industry and needs of the developing world. In the year that followed, you have shown a horizontal learning curve, regugerating the same old "questions" about the OLPC that have been discussed much better elswhere on OLPCnews.

I can ask you again. If you are so sure you know where the OLPC is failing, write a piece about it. Wayan will surely publish it. Or, for once, post a comment that shows us some understanding or insight in technology, education, or development all readers can learn from.

And for once, show some compassion for the poor children that still get no decent education.

Winter

Mary Lou Jepsen said:
1) My new company *is* trying to explore the concepts of open hardware - and trying to figure out the right way to do it. I've been asking many people for advice on this: Richard Stallman, Eben Moglen, Larry Lessig, John Gilmore, Brewster Kahle, etc. We are struggling through it. Hardware is different from software - but how can we open it up?


Err, you're kidding right? You've *got* to be joking. Those are all good names and all but I can tell you straight up what you do to open up hardware. You start by *not* patenting it. Next, you publish the specs under a suitably free license. Congrats, you now have open hardware. Anything else is just bullshit double talk.

> Err, you're kidding right? You've *got* to be joking. Those are all good names and all but I can tell you straight up what you do to open up hardware. You start by *not* patenting it. Next, you publish the specs under a suitably free license. Congrats, you now have open hardware. Anything else is just bullshit double talk.

You should better patent it. Otherwise, there is no protection and some random person could patent it and then ask *you* to pay royalty. You patent it and licence it under a free term. That is more open.

And, come on, how come you assume that you know it more than Mary Lou and others who are *really* working on it?

"Err, you're kidding right? You've *got* to be joking. Those are all good names and all but I can tell you straight up what you do to open up hardware."

Actually, the problem is much more complicated.

You can find some of RMS' ideas on Open Hardware here:
http://features.linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=1999-06-22-005-05-NW-LF

There are several aspects to working in Free/Open hardware design.

First, Mary-Lou was NOT free to do what she liked with the designs she made for the OLPC, that was "work-for-hire". Also, the OLPC had to convince companies to do part of the development and invest in a risky production facility. They demanded an exclusive right to sell the hardware. Hence, no patents, no laptops.

Second, there is no such thing as patent free hardware. There were (are?) even patents on the concept of integrated circuits and CPUs. So, Open Hardware tries to steer clear of patent infringments simply by using modular designs with FREE interfaces. That way, encumbered components can be exchanged for other ones when necessary.

Third, Free and Open Hardware can use components that have a dual patent licensing policy. Just like MySQL has. Free for Libre hardware, closed for closed hardware.

There are so many options and so little understanding.

Winter

It's not that complicated. If you patent something, it isn't free. Period. You might have wanted it to be free but were forced by your goals or the goals of others to not make it free, but that doesn't change the fact that it isn't free.

"It's not that complicated. If you patent something, it isn't free. Period."

Exactly the same reasoning can be made for copyright. Still, the GPL and BSD style copyright licenses are considered "free enough" by most. Patents are less useful in this respect, but they can be (dual) licensed in the same way. IBM and other companies are doing just that with software patents.

But that doesn't do away with the fact that there is no patent-free computer hardware available, anywhere.

Winter

Copyright is worldwide and free, while patents are valid in a single country and costly to obtain (over $10K if you want to cover the main markets).

So it is much harder to have the equivalent of the GPL. In theory, making your hardware "open source" would automatically provide prior art and prevent other people from getting patents on your ideas. In practice, Yoshiki's suggestion of a protective patent is very reasonable.

Without a patent you can't license your designs in any reasonable way, so you have the hardware equivalent of putting software in the public domain. Or you can be an optimist and say you have a MIT/BSD-like scheme. In any case, people can use your design in closed products.

The dual license scheme like in Ghostscript is an alternative that I am looking into. People can pay to use the current version or use the previous one with no limitations at all. This would be enforced by temporary secrets rather than law/patents. But it is more suitable for cathedral style development than for a bazaar-like one.

Close