OLPC - charity or 3rd world profiteering?

What if we told you that you can buy a cheap laptop and, for the price you would normally pay for a Windows based one, you can get a laptop running a much more stable operating system AND send a similar laptop to a child in Africa?

What if that laptop would be useless to a thief? Finally, what if this laptop, called XO, was not only rugged & child-proof, but was actually designed to be used even by a child? This offer was initially available only until the end of November, and we covered the XO in the past, but it has now been extended until the end of December. Some people have purchased a laptop for a child they know instead for their own child, effectively donating 2 laptops. Although I do not need yet another laptop, I am very tempted to get this one... You might think there isn't really a need for a laptop where people have nothing to eat, and you are not alone. Although Lybia's rulers have committed to give each child a laptop, India has resisted (even at $100/laptop) and decided to build their own, without releasing details. From the FAQ:
You're expecting this to be a magic bullet for poverty. False: Not at all. It is simply a tool for education and communication and only helps, in part, in contributing to the entirety of aid programs where these laptops are distributed. Nevertheless it provides access to education, health, technology, economic opportunity, and more, and a few children will be able pull themselves out of poverty with no other assistance. You're forcing this on poverty stricken areas that need food, water and housing rather than a laptop. False: Not at all. Like it was said earlier, this is only a tool and should not be seen as more than that. We agree that other more urgent matters must be attended to before you insert high tech into the situation of poverty. Not everybody agrees with that idea. Some think that access to the Net is the fastest way for poor people to get the political clout to require their governments to provide services to them. Or to get the education for real jobs that take them out of poverty completely. Or access to innovative technologies for providing food, water, clothing, shelter, energy, etc. But we believe education and communication with the modern world to be important as well. Food, water, clothing and other necessities come first. Nevertheless, a world view and good education can do wonders for a child's mind and continued health. Computers, especially those that are networked, have shown to be development 'multipliers', that is they help to improve the delivery of medical, educational and communication services.
If you are doubting that the XO laptop is needed in the first world, I can assure that a laptop is far better for a child than the TV (the most used and abused babysitter), simply because a laptop is interactive. If you buy the XO for Canada, shipping is $35 and the $200 used to send the 2nd laptop to an African child might be tax deductible against your US income:
A Canadian donor may claim charitable tax credits for a gift to a recognized US charity, provided that the charity would have qualified in Canada if it had been a Canadian charitable organization. The charitable credit is limited to the donor's US-source income, and subject to the normal donation ceiling. Any excess credits can be carried forward and used in subsequent taxation years. (Article XXI(6) Canada-US Income Tax Convention)
This disruptive product has been in design since 2005 and it was a cause championed by Negroponte, who stated:
"From my point of view, if the world were to have 30 million" laptops made by competitors "in the hands of children at the end of next year, that to me would be a great success," he said in a recent interview. "My goal is not selling laptops. OLPC is not in the laptop business. It's in the education business."
Strangely enough, a Nigerian company is suing OLPC for infringement of some copyright on its keyboard. As the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. Writes alsee in the ensuing /. debate:
Lawsuit states that keyboards were purchased and illegally reverse engineered. The only way that could be true is if Nigeria has a seriously defective legal system (quite possible), but even then the "truth value" of that statement would only exist within Nigeria. Like someone who illegally wears a t-shirt that says "Vote". The phrase "illegally reverse engineered" only weighs in favor of a case of this company being a "patent troll", it is not an argument to refute that label. A further note is that all uses of the word "invention" appear to false. According to the article this is a design patent. At least in US law, design patents are not for new useful inventions, design patents are not for functional aspects, design patents are for aesthetic and ornamental aspects. Design patents are about "our product looks cool and distinctive". Design patents are trivial to work around, you just change the shape or arrangement of your product to any of a zillion other equally reasonable equally functional looks. ...ok a little Googling and yes Nigerian RD#### patent are "Registered Design" patents. This is not an invention patent, this is an ornamental design patent. It also turns out that there is no official website to look up Nigerian patents, not only is there no website for it but the Nigerian Patent Office official contact point is a Yahoo email address. This company is suing a charitable high-tech project to aid 3rd world children, and doing it based on an ornamental patent registered with a government operating from a Yahoo email address. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
Most commentators seem to believe that this is either a lawsuit backed by the Wintel Hydra who is upset that the project uses Linux and AMD chips, whereas others think that this is simply an attempt by a dishonest corporation to scam some money out of anything they can. In response, Intel has designed a laptop called "Classmate" which sells for more than double the price of XO, which its marketing team claims it is far superiour. For its part, Microsoft has claimed that the cost of software is not an important issue in the developing world. The Wall Street Journal writes that the XO was seriously derailed by the marketing push of the two big tech giants, while BBC places the blame on "politics". Anyway, if you are enraged by Microsoft and Intel's products, your best course of action would be to vote with your wallet and boycott their products. Luckily, their competition is good to excellent. Perhaps the funniest outcome of this silly lawsuit would be a new class of Nigerian/419 scams, as shown in Mateo LeFou's comment:
Dear Honest Individual
I am Stella McBride, aged 21years old the daughter of Late Darl Makoba a politician
,gold and software merchant from Angola. I and my mother now residing in Senegal dakar west africa. As a result of the on-going problem in our country, we must relocate US$500 million of intellectual property to an overseas account...
A secondary outcome is that the price of all laptops will come down and in fact it has already. Echoes Ecoble
/. wsj

blog comments powered by Disqus
Your gift enables us to continue to provide high quality reporting with little or no advertising.