On 16th March we welcomed visiting scholars Stefan Haefliger (Cass Business School, London), Natacha Estèves (Sciences Po, Paris) and Rufus Pollock (Open Knowledge) to share their insights and recent work on the theme of openness, innovation and IP. The half-day workshop prompted vigorous discussion between the guests and participants about this emerging area of interdisciplinary research. Below, I have summarised the presentations given by the speakers and provided links to access presentation materials for those who were unable to attend on the day.
In my introduction to the event, I highlighted what I think are three disciplinary attempts to engage with the link between openness and innovation. The first of these comes from science and technology studies (STS) and in particular, accounts of the effects of digital communication technologies on organisations. A good example of this type of work is an influential paper by Burgelman et al in 2010 which draws attention to the effects of networked communication on the production of scientific knowledge. The implications of openness enabled by digital communication technology are still emerging in domains such as open academic publishing and library science, both of which have intellectual property dimensions.
A second disciplinary approach to openness has been from law and economics, where scholarship considers how openness, conceived in terms of limitations on the scope and term of intellectual property protection, may have economic welfare effects. Last year’s presentation by Stefan Bechtold on experimental work with colleagues Chris Sprigman and Chris Buccafusco, is a good example of this approach. The authors argue that the economic benefit of granting monopoly rights in IP must be balanced against consideration of the costs of follow-on creativity introduced by the grant of exclusive rights. Altering the scope of protection will have an influence on whether sequential creators should more optimally innovate or borrow.
The third discipline that I think has engaged productively with the issue of openness is management studies, where a great deal of research has been devoted to understanding the apparently counterintuitive success of undertakings such as Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) projects. Influential work such as that done by Von Hippel and Von Krogh (2003) continues to animate theoretical and empirical work on the incentives to participate in private-collective innovation. Each of these disciplinary approaches are related by their attention to the feature of ‘open’ access to information, but differ in the way they measure and theorise its effects.
Next, Professor Stefan Haefliger presented his research on Business Models, Open Collaboration, and Open Source Software Development, drawing on several of his ongoing projects at Cass Business School. With colleagues Baden-Fuller, Giudici and Morgan, Haefliger proposes that there are four main types of business models in the world: 1) product-based, 2) solutions-based, 3) matchmaker and 4) multi-sided. In multi-sided business models (e.g. certain firms in the digital economy) we have heard the observation that ‘you (the consumer) are the product’, suggestive of the way that consumer attention is aggregated on one side and sold on to advertisers on the other. Haefliger is interested in what happens when these businesses interact with FLOSS communities where contributions are open and a voluntarist ethos is present. Haefliger’s research on the motivations for collaborative problem-solving suggests that social practices, oriented around quality and sustainability, strongly motivate open, collaborative innovation. He closes his presentation by suggesting a link with business models research: If ‘we are the innovation’, then triadic business models that engage in open collaboration need to understand the social practice behind that innovation.
Natacha Estèves presented on her ongoing PhD research on innovative collective open patent strategies. Natacha’s research is focused on identifying the various mechanisms by which single firms or collections of firms opt to open or share patentable innovations. In her presentation, she differentiates patent pledges in which firms commit to not enforce their rights in patents that they hold, a recent example being Tesla Motors’ pledge not to enforce its patents in electric automobile technology. More organised mechanisms include defensive patent license (DPL) pools in which participating firms collectively open license their patent portfolios to each other, but not to outside innovators. A third example is ‘open patent licensing’, which resembles the share-alike stipulation in certain Creative Commons licenses. For example, in Biological Open Source (BiOS) licenses, users may not assert further IP rights over the original technology or improvements made available under such licences.
The legal status of these different approaches is currently unresolved, and Natacha’s PhD research aims to evaluate how these strategies map with legal IP protection in different jurisdictions.
Finally, Dr. Rufus Pollock introduced his current research and activism around open knowledge, in terms of both information (data) and expressions that would normally be protectable by core IP rights. Rufus discussed the economics of closed vs. open intellectual property, and proposed a policy solution to fund the creation of new information goods in the absence of proprietary rights. In his view, the innovations represented by voluntary, free and open collaborations are interesting, but too insignificant as a proportion of the total amount of information goods produced. As he puts it, ‘open source doesn’t cut it’ as a solution to the economic and social inefficiencies introduced by the traditional intellectual property regime in digital information. He proposes an alternative system for incentivising and funding innovation which would consist of three different sources: a remuneration scheme for creators based on rates of use, a centrally managed fund of direct patronage, and a prize system to identify and nurture promising new creations. Rufus further elaborated on his policy proposal to create a centralised, collective funding mechanism for innovation during a public lecture which was recorded below.