Non-Profit Innovation Alliance

There has been quite a bit of buzz about the newly-formed Non-Profit Innovation Alliance (NIA).

The NIA is a "cross-licensing group comprised of firms that provide technologies that help nonprofits--as well as political campaigns--send email fundraising campaigns, aggregate member contact information, manage website content and the like," according to Kate Kaye, a journalist and writer for Personal Democracy.

Current members of the NIA include Beaconfire Consulting, CharityWeb, Convio, GetActive, Itero!, Mindshare Interactive Campaigns, Public Interest Data, Inc. and RightClick Strategies. According to its press release, NIA members "support the protection of patent and other intellectual property rights to encourage innovation."

The release gives a brief background of the controversial issue of patenting of software, and specifically Internet business methods:

"Business method patents typically protect a method for engaging in a business transaction using Internet technology--such as Amazon's one-click patent or Priceline's reverse auction patent versus patents that solve particular technical problems. These patents have sparked heated debate about the appropriateness of patent protection for the claimed innovations as well as legal challenges. In Europe, business methods are not patentable. Additionally, many believe that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is ill equipped to handle review of the flood of business method patent applications submitted in recent years."

There are numerous articles about the Alliance, including in the Nonprofit Times where I was quoted. A more partisan overview of the NIA and the issue of patents is by veteran tech writer Chris Nolan in eWeek; another is by Kate Kaye. She highlights Kintera, the 50-pund gorilla in the nonprofit software field that holds patents for 15 products and business processes, according to the database of the US Patent Office. She also points out that, so far, NIA members hold no patents to cross-license, although Convio has several software patents pending.

A comprehensive overview of issues regarding software patents is here.

One of the leading organizations opposed to software patents is the Electronic Frontier Foundation which has an overview of its position here.

Patenting of software and Internet business processes are issues we are keenly interested in and are actively following. NTEN and Aspiration will be hosting a information seminar on the issue of patents and nonprofit software in the near future. Stay tuned.