The dot-com years still generate frenzied talk, albeit mostly negative. It was a period of risk, speculation, and greed. It was also a period of enterprise and entrepreneurship. Eyeing the highflying start-ups, the old-line companies tried to catch that same daring spirit; most, however, were weathervanes in a storm, feeling pressure from all sides and whipped around senselessly.
My company was not immune to these pressures, part of which demanded that research for an operating company had to be directed to near-term product development and that accompanying intellectual property itself show a return on investment. At that time, I had sketched out a proposal for my company’s central research group to license their patents to start-ups and entrepreneurs for no upfront fees or royalties for a certain time. This so-called “Hothouse” project would give these newbies quick and easy access to more technical rights and assets and would hopefully help stimulate their development efforts. For us, we would seek to stoke demand and gain wider adoption for the group’s innovations and intellectual property (and, with any luck, create actual revenue in the future). In the end, my proposal was barely considered, eclipsed by larger-profile efforts to spin-out technology and micro-invest venture capital.
Free sharing of technological information has a long history in all fields, so my proposal was certainly not the first of its kind nor the last.