Don't tax Net hardware either, says Intel's Grove

Funny that...

Andy Grove has been offering advice to the US government, as well as the odd maxim for individuals and businesses, at a conference on Internet and Society at Harvard. His messages were couched in coded terms, but by a massive coincidence, they'd be good for Intel as well as the government.

Grove's main political theme was "Do no harm", which could be more familiarly put as "the government should keep its finger out of the Internet". He was pleased that there was no Department of the Internet, nor a Federal Internet Commission, but he was a bit peeved about tax issues. The way he saw it was that the "bits and atoms" should be treated alike from an intellectual property perspective. Although he didn't exactly spell it out, it was a dig against there being any differentiation between taxes on software/content and hardware, and support for taxes on Internet commerce being the same as with normal commerce. He didn't like the idea of "e-protectionism", as he called it, and funnily enough, he didn't want to see the atom-side disadvantaged.

Grove also thought that the amount of government spending on pre-competitive research should be related to the contribution made by the sector. He was none too keen on the US educational system ("it's in a pretty sorry state") and called for "world-class mathematics and science" to be taught. The government should give leadership, and not procrastinate and vacillate, he said, although he recognised it could take 20 years. He also suggested that the US immigration system should be reviewed, and the message was clearly that he thought Intel should not be hassled if it wished to hire more foreigners.

So far as European government is concerned, he thought that there was something wrong, but the bee stayed in his bonnet, although the suspicion must be that he had in mind the ending of the US tax subsidy on foreign sales corporations, which amounts to a tax break of around 15 per cent on overseas earnings. Fierce argument has broken out about a US proposal to replace the subsidy with a different dodgy scheme - a move that is firmly rejected by the EU and will probably end up being resolved by the WTO in due course, with the US losing out.

Another Grove theme was privacy, and he admitted to a minority view about this as well: he believes that private data is property, and should be protected by IP law. So far as the Internet was concerned, he felt that "wealth creation is not accompanied by a corresponding creation of real value". In Churchillian mood, he proclaimed that "never had so much information been available to so many for so little". He also had some harsh words for bloated software features: they were "self-serving" for the vendors, and did not solve real business problems. Pow!

An original if rather odd idea was summed up in his maxim for individuals: "Embrace that which confronts you most", which he interpreted as "go after what's scariest". His advice for business was to "do more, and talk less", and so after a brief Q&A in which he refused to be drawn about the Microsoft case, he took his own advice and departed. ®

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