I’ve lived in the country for over 20 years now. It’s quite common for my commute on county roads to be delayed by a few minutes because I get behind a tractor hauling equipment that takes up the entire road. Rather than getting frustrated about being late to check my emails, it’s become a good reminder to slow down, breathe a little deeper, and enjoy the moment. My grandpa was a farmer. I remember his massive pole barn full of green tractors like it was yesterday. I even came across the sales ticket for one of his combines one time and was amazed at how expensive it was, even decades ago. I can’t imagine the cost of a modern tractor.

If I was a big-time farmer and had millions of dollars of equipment sitting in a barn, I’d be quite protective of it. I’d close the doors at night. I’d keep it clean. I’d perform all the maintenance it needs whenever it needs it. I’d also take pride in what I owned, and if the time ever came to work on my tractor on my own, I’d certainly expect that I could do what was necessary to get the repair made quickly and efficiently.

How does all of this relate to tech? Truth is, many farmers no longer have the right to service their own tractors! With all the computers, software, and other technology built into these machines, there are many components and systems that are only able to be worked on by an authorized dealer. This isn’t just because they have the special expensive tools to work on them… it’s also a legal matter now. Most complex farm equipment has systems and firmware that remain the legal property of the manufacturer, and the owner no longer has the legal right to alter or even maintain it in any way.

If you’d like to learn more about this, simply google “right to repair.” You’ll find blogs and legal opinions all over the place, but the truth is, software ownership and intellectual property rights are a big deal right now, and this doesn’t just apply to expensive farm equipment. The Microsoft Word software I’m writing this in right now? Not mine, it’s just a license. If I don’t pay my fee to Microsoft next month, it will quit working. The copy of QuickBooks I use to run the financial side of my business? Again, just a license. And how about that cloud-based drive I store all my critical company files on. Let’s not even get started.

Intellectual property in the tech space is of vital importance to small and big businesses alike. Over the next few months, I’d like to dive deeper into this world, and I hope we can all gain some knowledge as we explore the world of code ownership, licenses, and ownership of data.

Written by Chet Cromer for publication in the Business Leader