Mozilla founder speaks on intellectual property rights

Mozilla founder Mitch Kapor ’71 hasn’t “spent more than 15 minutes in more than 20 years” in Ezra Stiles College, from which he graduated nearly 40 years ago.

But on Monday night, he spent a full 90 minutes in the house of Master Stephen Pitti ’91 for a Master’s Tea before nearly 80 students. Kapor spoke about the future of information technology, covering issues ranging from health-care technology to intellectual property rights.

Kapor opened his tea with a discussion of the role information technology is playing in the health care industry, a field he said he finds particularly interesting. Medical records should all be computerized, Kapor said, because doing so would help to solve “an enormous social problem.” Currently, Kapor said, a majority of family practitioners rely on paper records alone.

“The reason that matters,” he said, “is that if you could measure outcomes, you could begin to think about changing the payment system to reward health-care providers for actually improving the quality of health of their patients.”

After receiving his degree from Yale, Kapor worked as a disc jockey at Connecticut rock station WHCN-FM and taught transcendental meditation and worked as a computer programmer in Cambridge, Mass. Following a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Beacon College, he became the founding investor of the first successful independent commercial Internet Service Provider UUNET, co-founder of the civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, and founded software company Lotus Development Corporation.

Later, Kapor called his views on the future of intellectual property rights “radical.” The protection of all intellectual property rights is impractical and outdated, he said.

“The disruption to economic models underlying creative processes is not the end of the world,” Kapor said. “It has happened before, it’s happening now, and it will happen again. People will figure out how to get by in each niche.”

Kapor also commented on his experience as an undergraduate at Yale. He relayed an anecdote from his time in Ezra Stiles, in which one of his friends “had a really bad acid trip in the Stiles common room,” he said.

“It was different,” he said. “Things were kind of disruptive in the ’60s. Coeducation happened, as did the Black Panther Trials, and there was a draft.”

Nevertheless, Kapor called Yale a “wonderful place” that he felt privileged to attend.

Sunny Chung ’13 said he thought Kapor’s views on intellectual property rights were too “optimistic and idealistic,” because the disruption of traditional revenue streams — such as, in the case of musicians, the sale of recordings — can only be eased through the sale of other products, such as concert tickets and band apparel. But for those sales to compensate for traditional revenue models, product prices would have to rise, which would lead to fewer sales.

Joanna Da Lu ’11 said she was pleased to hear Kapor emphasize the digitization of medical records.

“I worked on the use of technology in medical records during the summer after my freshman year,” Da Lu said, “and I’m glad that there is someone as important and influential as he investing in such technologies.”

Elizabeth Stark, a lecturer in computer science at Yale, found many of the issues Kapor covered relevant to the courses she teaches.

“He is incredibly insightful when it comes to the issues surrounding the future of technology. I wish more of my students could have come,” she said.

Kapor will give the opening keynote speech at an invitational meeting of Health Information Technology Platforms at Harvard on Sept. 29–30.

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