Monster Blackberry

You have to be a resident of Oregon to understand true mania for berries. I know the Swedes love their lingonberries, and the folks in California think they have good strawberries – but you need to spend a summer in Oregon to understand how far people can take their love of berries. See, in Oregon, a strawberry isn’t legitimate until it is red all the way through with so much juice and flavor that it will make you sit down when you eat it. Oregon State University has gone so far as to create a hybrid of the blackberry and the loganberry that was named the marionberry (long before the fame of the D.C. Mayor). Huge, juicy berries that are explosively flavorful.


Ok – how far am I going to take this berry thing? This past weekend I went end-of-the-season berry picking with my wife and kids to a farm in Aurora, Oregon that boasts of having “monster blackberries.” They are not kidding – imagine a blackberry the size of a small plumb where each berry takes 4 or 5 bites to eat. Given the purple mess that my 2 year-old’s face was when he was done with a few…they were good. As I stood talking with the farmer about his crop I asked him about these amazing berries. What kind of blackberry can grow so large? His answer – “It’s a trade secret.”


Give the Governor a Harumph.


That caught me off guard. Surely, the barrier to entry in getting land, planting a huge field, putting in the years to get mature plants that produce a maximum amount of fruit – to say nothing of the process of harvesting, packaging, and getting them to market – was enough to make me a non-threat to his business.


Yet, this conversation really got me thinking. Protecting the fruits of your labors (sorry, couldn’t resist) is extremely important if you are going to maintain a healthy commercial interest. I am sure that there is a huge amount of free information out there about berry farming. In fact, there must be a lifetime’s worth of data on soil management, irrigation, harvest management, etc. But the one, most important fact as to what kind of berry grows so large and with such ripeness – that is what he is holding onto so tightly.


Is software so different? The trick for any of us in the commercial software space is to know what the core asset is, and what is the compliment. Some resources you are going to release for everyone to use, while others are held very tightly. Open sourcing something may seem like a good idea, but if you are releasing your core asset you may not be able to harvest much of a crop later. (must...stop...punning) Furthermore, if you are going to share something, it is well worth you while to deeply consider the terms and conditions you will place upon a given release. Recently, we have been giving a great deal of thought to our licensing terms as we share our technologies. More on that to come.


Next weekend, we’re going to go back to pick those huge blackberries again and I will meditate more on the implications of trade secrets while my boys prove that the commercials on TV about the effectiveness of laundry detergent are complete fabrications (last pun, I promise).

Comments (4)
  1. that me you’re harumphing?

  2. Garrett says:

    I think it’s also worth noting, that people tend to over-value their trade secrets, and thereby base their entire business model on the concept that they can keep it secret.

    What happens when the secret of "Monster Blackberries" gets out? Are his competitors going to start scooping up the market? What kind of factors will keep his customers comming back to him? Service? Respect? Fair Pricing?

    It takes more than a secret to *maintain* the advantage in today’s marketplace. Constant inovation is the only key to success.

    When I was a kid, we used chicken droppings to fertilize the blueberry bushes. Got Blueberries the size of cherries. They were GREAT.

    Whoops. Now what have I done. I’ve just provided the possible primer to the mystery. What happens now? Someone else looks into the composition of chicken droppings and starts to do some experimenting. Boom, suddenly we’re getting monster blackberries all over.

  3. Peter C. says:

    Your analogy falls apart somewhat in that, while the farmer might not want to tell you up front what kind of berry it is, despite what commercial software vendors seem to believe, it would be unreasonable and illogical for him to require you to sign a EULA forbidding you to find out on your own before he’ll let you eat any. The way in which one could discover what kind of berry it is certainly has its limitations in that it would be legal to compare it to other berries or to attempt to grow one on your own, but it would be illegal to break into his house to search for the necessary information. To try to outlaw any attempt whatsoever to reverse-engineer the berry, however, would be both silly and unenforceable.

  4. Wesley Parish says:

    I suppose the proper thing for me to do would be to relate a joke of sorts I read a while back:

    It seems two old men in a small town somewhere were fierce competitors in an annual competition to grow the biggest sample of any specific crop. Both men specialized in marrows; both men grew huge marrows; but one grew consistently larger marrows than the other, and won consistently.

    The other man didn’t say much, but one day his opponent’s prize marrow disappeared and his marrow won the competition that year. His opponent didn’t say much either, and made sure his fences were shored up. Behind it, he did some things late one night, and then seemingly forgot about it. His marrow grew huge, as everyone expected. And then one night it disappeared.

    He entered a much smaller marrow in the competition that year – and still won. His opponent never entered. Apparently he’d fallen violently ill.

    Moral: Paraffin and marrow apparently don’t mix too well in the stomach of a thief.

    I leave it up to you to make the requisite connections.

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