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Consumers are becoming the innovators, and WiFi for all

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Consumers are remixing and reworking products - and patent holders are nervous.

Ikea hackers rejoice: Patricia Cohen at the New York Times has a piece about how the traditional "big companies innovate products, consumers buy it and like it" circuit is breaking down:

Since the Austrian economist Joseph A. Schumpeter published “The Theory of Economic Development” in 1934, economists and governments have assumed that the industrial and business sectors are where ideas for products originate. A complex net of laws and policies, from intellectual property rights to producer subsidies and tax benefits, have flowed from this basic assumption. However, pathbreaking research by a group of scholars including Eric A. von Hippel, a professor of technological innovation at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management, suggests that the traditional division of labor between innovators and customers is breaking down.

von Hippel calls consumers remixing, hacking and reworking products "the dark matter of innovation" - but that threatens patent holders, Cohen reports:

As consumer innovators proliferate, the tensions with producers have escalated, and the courts are increasingly going to be called in to adjudicate, [Harvard law professor] Mr. [William] Fisher predicted. He is skeptical that easing intellectual property law would significantly spur economic efficiency, but he does say it would foster creativity and community. In a recent article in the Minnesota Law Review, Mr. Fisher argues that altering equipment — like music, novels and other cultural artifacts — is a way of expressing creativity, and that the law should take that into account. “User innovation,” he writes, “offers opportunities for self-fulfillment.”

Solar panels
An Albany social service agency is now boasting solar panels on its roof - for an energy bill savings of $435,000 over the next 50 years.  Brian Nearing reports in the Times Union that the deal was enabled by a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) program:

Under the NYSERDA program, [agency] Living Resources has a 20-year lease from SunDog Solar, which will own and maintain the panels. At the end of the lease, Living Resources will have the option to purchase the equipment. According to Betsy Wyman, a vice president at SunDog, the lease allows for energy-efficient electricity without the risks of owning or maintaining equipment.

Another firm, Solar Liberty, has performed a similar task in western New York, rigging Catholic schools and homeless shelters with panels.  And yesterday the company announced what it's billing as Rochester's largest solar project: 320 panels on top of the Monroe County airport.  The Innovation Trail's Zack Seward reports.

WiFi for all
The president was in Michigan yesterday to promote the idea of providing all American's with high-speed wireless Internet, AP reports:

“For millions of Americans, the railway hasn’t shown up yet,“ Obama said. “For our families and our businesses, high-speed wireless service: that’s the next train station; it’s the next off-ramp. It’s how we’ll spark new innovation, new investments and new jobs.“ Obama wants to make high-speed wireless available to 98 percent of the population within five years, a goal he set out in his State of the Union address. It’s a lofty aim considering such technology is only now being built in major cities by AT&T, Verizon and others. And it will cost billions of dollars that Republicans now running the House signaled they may be unwilling to spend. But the president cast it as crucial for America’s future prosperity and competitiveness with other nations.

Border security
New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are calling on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to use high tech radar to prevent small private planes from smuggling drugs into the U.S. from Canada.  Charlie Specht of the Buffalo News reports:

Schumer, who pledged to personally urge Napolitano to consider the measure, said the military-grade radar has helped law enforcement officials in Spokane, Wash., crack down on more drug-trafficking operations. He said that the technology would track the planes and that federal authorities would alert local and state law enforcement about where the smuggling planes landed. "We need to start using this technology as soon as possible, so that when these planes land in New York, law enforcement is there waiting to put the drug smugglers behind bars and keep the drugs off our streets," Schumer said.

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